May talks tough on EU Irish demands
Prime Minister Theresa May is due to warn the European Commission she will not agree to “anything that threatens the constitutional integrity of the UK”, rebutting the suggestion Northern Ireland must remain in the customs union and single market after Brexit.
The commission is about to publish draft withdrawal agreement saying Northern Ireland may need to be considered part of EU customs territory, effectively moving the border with the bloc to the Irish Sea.
The arrangement would create a single regulatory space on the island with no internal barriers. Northern Ireland voted remain in the divisive 2016 referendum.
May has been told she must agree on a legal text for the Irish issue or risk stalling talks on the post-Brexit relationship.
A prime ministerial source said: “The EU should be absolutely clear that the prime minister is not going to sign up to anything that threatens the constitutional integrity of the UK or its common market.
“Nor are we going to accept the ECJ [European Court of Justice] as the final arbiter of the withdrawal agreement. There are many issues on which we are in agreement with the EU but, when it comes to these matters, you can expect the government’s response to be robust.”
The spokesperson: “This is a draft negotiating position by the EU and not a final, binding text.”
Adding to the narrative that the UK government was dismantling over Brexit, bungling Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has faced ridicule after he compared the border issue to the congestion charge in London.
He told the BBC that technological systems could ensure that no “excessive checks” were needed.
“There’s no border between [the London boroughs of] Camden and Westminster, but when I was mayor of London we anaesthetically and invisibly took hundreds of millions of pounds from the accounts of people travelling between those two boroughs without any need for border checks whatever,” Johnson said.
When asked how this was relevant to a border that was a war zone 25 years ago, the gaff-prone former journalist said: “I think it’s a very relevant comparison, because there is all sorts of scope for pre-booking, electronic checks, all sorts of things that you can do to obviate the need for a hard border, to allow us to come out of the customs union, take back control of our trade policy and do trade deals.”
Chris Leslie, a prominent Labour remain supporter, said: “Boris Johnson’s tenure as foreign secretary and Brexit cheerleader shows he has the reverse Midas touch: everything he touches turns to muck.”
Pro-EU protesters in Manchester last year. Picture credit: Eurasia Times