Mixed reaction to EU's Brexit draft withdrawal treaty

An EU proposal for the Northern Ireland border threatens the "constitutional integrity" of the United Kingdom, Theresa May has said.

It outlines a proposal to keep Northern Ireland aligned with the rules of the Single Market and Customs Union, in order to prevent the erection of a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

The EU's draft proposes a "common regulatory area" after Brexit on the island of Ireland - in effect keeping Northern Ireland in a customs union - if no other solution is found.

Mrs May said "no UK prime minister could ever agree" to this.

The EU says the "backstop" option is not intended to "provoke" the UK.

Unveiling the draft agreement on what has proved to be a busy day for Brexit news, EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier called on the UK to come up with alternatives.

He said the text was "no surprise" and was just a legally-worded assessment of what had been agreed in the negotiations so far.

In reaction, Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament’s Brexit Coordinator, today issued a statement on behalf of the Parliament’s Brexit Steering Group: "The European Parliament will closely scrutinise the European Commission's draft of the withdrawal treaty released today. We welcome the overall approach taken by Michel Barnier.

“On the rights of EU citizens, the European Parliament welcomes the inclusion of future partners in the draft treaty, as we have long pushed for. We will remain vigilant and review the Commission's proposals, whilst continuing to seek assurances from the UK Government that the procedure to obtain the agreed status for EU citizens living in Britain after the transition will be cost free, simple and declaratory in nature.

“Both the UK and the EU made commitments in December regarding the maintenance of the Good Friday Agreement and the need to avoid any hardening of the Irish border. The European Parliament's commitment to Ireland remains steadfast. If we cannot find a negotiated settlement to avoid any hardening of the border, then it is important to have a backstop in place to maintain the free flow of goods and products on the island of Ireland, but all sides have been clear this is a fall-back option.

“A transition period will only be possible if we can agree a withdrawal treaty. Any transition agreement must respect the full acquis of the European Union; we cannot accept that, compared to goods and services, citizens are discriminated against and treated differently because of the transition. "

The Greens/EFA group welcomed the EU's protocol on Northern Ireland.

The protocol sets out a fall-back position for what will happen if the UK and EU fail to reach an agreement that would be consistent with the Good Friday Agreement.

Under the protocol, Northern Ireland would in effect remain in the Customs Union and would continue to operate within the Single Market for goods (but not services).

Greens/EFA co-president Philippe Lamberts commented, "The EU has been crystal clear that the Good Friday Agreement must be respected. We can never allow politics to take precedence over peace.

“If Prime Minister May has an alternative up her sleeve, we look forward to hearing it. But given the continued lack of clarity surrounding the UK’s position, and the fact that senior members of Theresa May's cabinet still struggle to accept the seriousness of the Irish question, there is a clear need to set out protections.

"Nothing in this agreement should come as a surprise. This is exactly what the UK signed up to back in December and they cannot now feign surprise at being asked to honour it."

A European Parliament source said, “Our assessment of the draft Withdrawal Treaty will follow in due course. Additionally, a resolution defining European Parliament's position on a possible framework for EU-UK future relations will be debated and put to vote in the March plenary session.”

Keir Starmer MP, Labour’s Shadow Brexit Secretary, responding to the publication of the Brexit withdrawal agreement, said:"The EU-UK Government war of words needs to end.

“There can be absolutely no deviation from the solemn commitments made to Northern Ireland at the end of the first phase of Brexit negotiations. That means no hard border or any agreement that would undermine the Good Friday Agreement.

“Theresa May’s failure to offer any viable solution to the border in Northern Ireland has come back to haunt her.

 “And yet, 20 months since the referendum the Government has yet to set out how it can achieve this without the UK remaining in a customs union with the EU. Jeremy Corbyn was clear at the start of the week that Labour would seek to negotiate a new comprehensive UK-EU customs union to help avoid any need for a hard border in Northern Ireland.”

Ukip interim leader Gerard Batten said, "The EU is trying to divide Northern Ireland away from the UK and attempting to undermine and reverse the referendum decision.Every party in Northern Ireland, Great Britain and the Irish Republic, and both governments have said they wish to avoid a hard border.The only party saying they will put a hard border is the European Commission, ie Michel Barnier. The European Commission shall not be allowed to annexe Northern Ireland or put a disruptive hard border.

There are a number of solutions to the Irish border issue.

Irexit – Ireland leaves the EU and has a free trade deal with the UK.

Ireland is given special trade status by the WTO due to its unique trading links and history with the UK.

"There is a bespoke technological solution at the border, without customs posts etc. This was the preferred earlier solution of the UK government. "

Jayne Adye, Director of Get Britain Out, commented, “The EU’s Draft Withdrawal Treaty effectively proposes to annex Northern Ireland.

“Michel Barnier is attempting to blackmail the United Kingdom by forcing us to keep Northern Ireland in the EU’s Single Market and Customs Union, including the full jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.

“This politicisation of the delicate situation in Northern Ireland is disgraceful. Britain must NOT allow the EU to interfere in our constitutional settlement and sow division.

“If EU negotiators were approaching these negotiations in good faith, they would work with the UK to agree a comprehensive trade deal, making use of technological solutions to prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland.

“Sadly, the EU’s latest provocations give the impression EU chiefs are not interested in a mutually beneficial deal.

“It is outrageous Barnier is meddling in our own internal constitutional issues in an attempt to tear apart the United Kingdom and keep us tied to the Single Market and Customs Union.

“Barnier's desire to retain ECJ supremacy over the United Kingdom after the Transition Period is a further clear demonstration of the EU's inability to engage in constructive negotiations.

“The British Government must NOT agree to these unacceptable demands.

“Brexit must mean the whole of the United Kingdom Leaving the Single Market and the Customs Union.

“If EU negotiators are not prepared to approach these negotiations in a reasonable manner, Theresa May must be prepared to walk away without a deal.

“Trading on World Trade Organisation rules is more desirable than a trade deal on these ridiculous terms.”

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Martin Banks

Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a highly qualified journalist with many years experience of working within the EU institutions. He is an occasional, and highly valued, contributor to EU today, writing on a wide variety of issues.

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