The issue of the Irish border is one of the key concerns in the brexit negotiations. Both the EU and UK have agreed that a hard border needs to be avoided in Ireland in order to keep the flow of trade and maintain all parts of the Good Friday agreement which has been in place since 1998. In order to keep the strong relations between the north and south, the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier has announced that Northern Ireland may need to remain in the single market and customs union post brexit. The draft agreement says that Northern Ireland would remain under EU law post-brexit, and would also stay under the EU’s VAT regime and under the jurisdiction of the ECJ.
The move would mean border checks within the UK, an idea that has been rejected by the British government, but may be necessary to progress with making a future trade deal. The draft paper says: ”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.” The draft agreement says that Northern Ireland would remain under EU law post-brexit, and would also stay under the EU’s VAT regime and under the jurisdiction of the ECJ.
A spokesperson for the British prime minister stated that the UK would not agree to “anything that threatens the constitutional integrity of the UK”. However, Michel Barnier told reporters that: “This backstop will not call into question the constitutional or institutional order of the UK. We will respect that. We are just saying that on the island there are two countries, we need to fund the capacity for certain issues relating to the internal market and customs union, that we need to ensure the Good Friday agreement can function … We need to ensure there is regulatory consistency, alignment.”
In response to the claims that keeping Northern Ireland part of the EU single market would create a hard border between them and the rest of the UK, he said: “In ports and airports there will be controls, but I would not refer to a border … I am not trying to provoke anyone here. And contrary from what I read there is no arrogance here. I am not being arrogant in any way.” He added: “My attitude is and will always be keep calm and be pragmatic … On the basis of paragraph 49, that we have agreed with the UK government, we are trying to find solutions. I will also work with the politicians of Northern Ireland.”
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