The EU proposed to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland after the United Kingdom formally leaves the bloc. This has prompted a verbal war between London and Brussels with the British government that argues that this would threaten the “constitutional integrity” of the UK. “Nothing in here will be a surprise for those who have followed the negotiations,” insisted Michel Barnier, European Chief Negotiator for the United Kingdom Exiting the European Union.
EU authorities say that the draft treaty embodies the agreement reached by negotiators in December. However, most attention was attracted by the draft protocol on Northern Ireland, which proposes to establish a “common regulatory area” on the island after Brexit, if no other settlement can be found. The Commission’s rationale is that Northern Ireland would have to remain aligned with EU rules on goods in order to avoid border controls.
“Brexit creates one single new land border – between the Republic and Northern Ireland. That situation has been recognized from the start…we have been asked to come up with a creative solution,” said an EU official. The ‘backstop’ option would only materialize if the UK and EU are not able to agree on a better solution.“I am not trying to create any shockwaves,” Mr. Barnier commented and added that the “backstop will not call into question the territorial integrity of the UK. We need to make sure that there is regulatory consistency. My attitude has always been: keep calm and be pragmatic.”
Brussels insists that continued UK membership of the customs union would be part of the solution on Ireland. However, Prime Minister Theresa May’s cabinet is more ameliorative and described the proposal as “an attempt, an initial attempt, by the European Union to codify option C, which is the fallback option if we are unable to resolve the border through the overall relationship.”