EU talks tough on Irish border
The European Union will threaten UK Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit “plan” tomorrow (Wednesday) by warning that Northern Ireland must sign up to EU regulations if Great Britain wishes to leave the customs union and single market.
France and Germany are understood to have blocked London’s plans to continue “fudging” the Irish border issue and are now insisting on a legal agreement, which could spark an “explosive row”, according to UK sources.
The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), which props up the Conservative minority government in Westminster, will oppose the EU demand, as will Conservative Brexiteers. The DUP supported the 2016 leave campaign but Northern Ireland overall voted to remain.
The Telegraph reported that the European Commission’s draft withdrawal agreement would effectively move the UK/EU border into the Irish Sea if Britain wanted to diverge from EU rules.
UK negotiators are now reportedly increasingly resigned to the EU rejecting compromise in the Irish border.
Ireland’s Deputy Prime Minister Simon Coveney met Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, in Brussels on Monday.
The text is expected to ignore UK ideas for a compromise on the border, focusing instead on Britain’s “fallback” option of full regulatory alignment between Britain and the EU to avoid a hard border in Ireland.
The looming battle has been caused by the EU’s determination to spell out in “operational detail” how the UK will avoid a hard border after Brexit. The pro-Brexit Telegraph story focuses on Brussels being tough with May, while in reality it is trying to secure the interests of its remaining member, Ireland.
Opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has reversed is position and backed the UK being in a permanent customs union with the EU.
Corbyn, who is largely silent on Brexit, said this would avoid a “hard border” in Northern Ireland and ensure free-flowing trade.
The U-turn could lead to Labour siding with Conservative pro-EU rebels to defeat May’s slim majority in the Commons as she tries to pass Brexit legislation.
Any customs union would be a “complete sell out”, pro-Brexit International Trade Secretary Liam Fox argued.
Corbyn told the BBC that he was “firming up” Labour’s policy, which was to back customs union membership during the planned two-year transition period after Brexit day in March 2019.
In his speech yesterday, the left-wing leader said: “Labour would seek a final deal that gives full access to European markets and maintains the benefits of the single market and the customs union.
“We have long argued that a customs union is a viable option for the final deal.
“So Labour would seek to negotiate a new comprehensive UK-EU customs union to ensure that there are no tariffs with Europe and to help avoid any need for a hard border in Northern Ireland.”
Pro-EU protesters in London last year. Picture credit: Eurasia Times