UK: May rejects customs union for Northern Ireland
LONDON: A draft withdrawal agreement published by the EU “would undermine the UK common market, if implemented,” British Prime Minister Theresa May said Wednesday.
“It would threaten the constitutional integrity of the UK by creating a customs and regulatory border down the Irish Sea,” she said, speaking at a weekly question session in the House of Commons.
“No UK prime minister could ever agree to it,” she said. The just-published draft text, which aims to put the deal struck between the sides in December into a legally binding form, suggested that Northern Ireland would be considered part of the EU’s customs territory after the UK left the bloc.
If implemented and Northern Ireland remained in the Customs Union, it would mean the creation of a trade border within the UK and the necessity of checks on shipped goods.
The EU draft said: “A common regulatory area comprising the Union and the United Kingdom in respect of Northern Ireland is hereby established”.
“The common regulatory area shall constitute an area without internal borders in which the free movement of goods is ensured and North-South cooperation protected,” it said. The EU proposal suggests a “common regulatory area” on the island of Ireland after Brexit, if any other solutions are found.
Text ‘no surprise’:
On the issue of the whole UK staying in the Customs Union, May said this “would be a betrayal of the British people.” May also said the December agreement reached with the EU included assurances for EU nationals in the UK as her government promised since the start of the Brexit negotiations.
She said she wants to deliver on the wishes of the British people to get control of their borders, laws, and money. She also reiterated that her government is committed to having no hard border on the island of Ireland.
The EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier told a press conference in Brussels that “if Brexit negotiations are to be a success, we must pick up the pace.”
Barnier called on the UK to come up with alternatives for the border issue, adding that the text was “no surprise” as it is based on what was agreed in December between the sides.
The document contains “concrete and realistic solutions” for the border issue, Barnier said.
Prompted by a question, he denied the EU was trying to undermine the constitutional integrity of the UK
A leaked memo penned by Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson to the prime minister has also come under fire, as opposition parties accused the Tory government of being divided and lacking a clear Brexit strategy.
Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn reminded May that Johnson said recently a hard border in Ireland was unthinkable.
“The foreign secretary’s leaked letter shows he can’t get to grips with one of the most fundamental issues of Brexit,” said Ian Blackford, the leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP) in Westminster.
A letter obtained by Sky News from Johnson to May said: “It is wrong to see the task as maintaining ‘no border’ but the aim was to stop the frontier becoming “significantly harder.”
“The government will not accept anything that undermines the constitutional integrity of the UK, or that creates a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland,” David Lidington, the Cabinet Office minister, said, responding to an urgent question on the leaked memo.
May said she would set out her government’s position for a future trade relationship with the UK later this week.
The EU members are expected to discuss the draft withdrawal agreement document at a EU summit next month.
The UK is set to leave the bloc on March 29, 2019. AA