Tuesday 26 March 2019

Barnier insists UK must agree Border backstop if Brexit deal is to be reached

Michel Barnier (right) speaks with Polish European Affairs Minister Konrad Szymanski (left) and Tánaiste Simon Coveney in Brussels yesterday. Photo: Getty
Michel Barnier (right) speaks with Polish European Affairs Minister Konrad Szymanski (left) and Tánaiste Simon Coveney in Brussels yesterday. Photo: Getty

Shona Murray

Brexit talks are back in high-stakes territory as Brussels reissued a warning to Britain over the Border resolution.

EU lead negotiator Michel Barnier reconfirmed to Tánaiste and Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney that there "will be no withdrawal treaty if there is no backstop".

There had been some hope the British Brexit war cabinet could finally agree on a solution for maintaining independence outside the EU while managing its affirmed position not to allow a border on the island of Ireland.

UK Prime Minister Theresa May split the Brexit committee into two groups.

One side was charged with examining the possibility of introducing technology or "max-fac" (maximum facilitation) solutions, and the other with looking into a possible customs partnership.

Both teams are due to report their conclusions today, but no resolution is expected, according to Brexit sources.

Worryingly, this delay comes as formal negotiations are due to recommence next week ahead of June's major summit.

Last night, senior hard-line Tory MP Jacob Rees Mogg warned that if Brussels forced the UK to choose between a customs union and a hard Brexit, it would choose to leave the EU without a deal.

"It would be helpful if everyone could unite to ensure that we secure the best outcome for the whole of the United Kingdom and Ireland, otherwise there will be a high economic price to be paid, primarily by Dublin," he warned.

Meanwhile, the Irish Government is adamant there must be credible progress on the backstop issue by the June summit, otherwise there won't be a withdrawal agreement.

The backstop - which was agreed in December by the EU and UK - states that in the event there is no viable trade deal between the EU and UK after Brexit, Northern Ireland will retain the same regulations as the rest of Ireland and Europe, in order to prevent the need for a customs border.

It has since been rejected by the British after it was translated into a legal-binding protocol.

Mrs May subsequently agreed there should be a backstop, but that the British government would come up with its own legal translation to be agreed by the EU.

So far, this has not materialised and Brussels is piling pressure on the British to get this part in place at least.

Speaking following a lengthy meeting with Mr Barnier in Brussels, Mr Coveney said: "There needs to be a backstop that deals with the Irish Border.

"That backstop needs to be in the withdrawal agreement and we need to find a wording that is acceptable to both sides which ensures there is no border infrastructure of any kind or related checks or controls.

"It has been committed to by the British prime minister, and we want to try to progress hat."

But he added: "The approach is a matter for the British government to find a way of delivering, it's not my job to do that."

He said the future relationship, which may or may not include a customs partnership, "is more than likely an issue for the future relationship negotiations which of course is going to take a lot more time".

In relation to possible solutions, Irish Brexit sources say "max-fac" isn't a viable option as it would mean simplifying the Border with technology.

This would ignore the fact that the object of the talks is to find a way to ensure there is no interruption to the status quo, meaning no new checks or demarcation lines that would inhibit the spirit or the law of the Good Friday Agreement.

The Government's preference is for the UK and EU to share the same customs territory.

"It would make some of the other problems that are difficult to solve right now a lot easier to resolve but that can't happen unless the British government bring it forward through negotiation to achieve that outcome," said Mr Coveney.

Irish Independent

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