Saturday 15 December 2018

EU accuses Britain of 'assault' on deal struck over Border

Tánaiste Simon Coveney discussed the agreement when he
met EU lead Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier. Photo: Mark Condren
Tánaiste Simon Coveney discussed the agreement when he met EU lead Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier. Photo: Mark Condren

Shona Murray

EU sources have said there has been an assault by the British government on the substance of the EU-UK deal made in December to protect the Irish Border.

A draft legal text of the Brexit withdrawal agreement - due to be published tomorrow - details the terms of the UK's exit from the EU.

The piece of the agreement referencing the Border will be contained in a legally binding protocol.

Recent briefings by British government officials to journalists, and subsequently printed in newspapers, suggested that the Irish text was less legally binding because it will be written in a separate protocol and will not be in the main body of the agreement.

EU sources told the Irish Independent that the protocol is separate because the Irish issue is required to remain in place forever.

The other issues - such as citizens' rights and the financial settlement - would eventually expire.

EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir
EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

"There has been an attempt for the last 10 days to undermine the Government in Dublin about this," said a source close to the talks.

Protocols are, by their nature, legally binding documents. They allow alterations and amendments to the main treaties.

The Irish Government and EU Brexit taskforce are "of one mind" on the draft text of the withdrawal agreement, said Tánaiste Simon Coveney.

Mr Coveney was speaking in Brussels where he had a meeting with EU lead Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier and his deputy, Sabine Weyand.

Meanwhile, both Dublin and Brussels are bracing themselves for a backlash from Britain over the contents of the draft treaty as it will not be well-received by arch-Brexiteers.

Some, including Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, will see it as pushing the UK into a corner where it will have to keep European rules and regulations even after it leaves the EU.

The text will outline the three options agreed by all sides late last year, which commits Britain to ensuring there will be no need for a physical Border separating the North from the Irish State.

The backstop option, or Option C, says there must be "regulatory alignment" between the whole of the UK and the EU where Britain will continue to follow the EU rules and regulations of the single market and customs union.

It is within this option that tension will arise as there appears to be some confusion as to what "regulatory alignment" actually commits Britain to.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar spoke to UK Prime Minister Theresa May on the phone last night where he repeated Ireland and the EU's demand to have the detail of the backstop option spelled out in the draft legal text. Although this option would only come into effect if agreement on one of the other options is not reached, it will probably trigger more disunity within the Tory-led government and put pressure on Mrs May.

Mr Coveney denied this, saying: "We're not looking to try to put pressure on anybody. We're simply looking to translate into a clear legal language a text that has already been agreed politically."

Irish Independent

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