Sunday 16 December 2018

How the draft Brexit treaty affects us - the key Irish issues

Need for North backstop has put Ireland at centre of negotiations

Dublin city centre (Stock picture)
Dublin city centre (Stock picture)
Laura Larkin

Laura Larkin

The so-called 'Irish question' emerged at the centre of the Brexit negotiations, and the draft treaty agreed this week deals extensively with several key areas. Here we break down what the treaty says about key Irish issues, including the special conditions necessary to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland.

The backstop:

As expected, the Northern Ireland backstop has been wrapped into a UK-wide "customs territory" that would come into effect if no deal can be agreed before the end of the transition period in 2020.

The text stipulates that the backstop will remain in place "unless and until" a new agreement on the future relationship supersedes it.

It ensures that the UK will remain aligned with customs rules while the backstop is in place but there will be a deeper relationship between Northern Ireland and the EU in order to remove the need for Border checks on goods.

Brexiteers are concerned that the draft agreement will leave the UK in a position where they are subject to EU controls with no say on them.

Theresa May told the House of Commons yesterday that there can be no deal without a backstop, although she acknowledged concerns about it.

The review mechanism:

The treaty provides for a review mechanism if either the EU or the UK considers there is a case for allowing the protocol to fall away, in full or in part.

To achieve this, notice must be given to a joint committee which will comprised EU and UK members, outlining the reasons for this.

Failure to reach a mutual agreement will see a complex process of arbitration triggered where the dispute will be resolved by fully independent experts in international law.

The absence of a means whereby the UK can unilaterally end the backstop has emerged as a major problem among MPs.

The Common Travel Area:

The section of the treaty dealing with the Common Travel Area is brief and essentially outlines that Ireland and the UK are free to continue to make arrangements about the freedom of movement of citizens of both countries.

Extensive work is under way between Irish and UK officials - separate to the Brexit negotiations - to ensure that the Common Travel Area is upheld.

Border down the Irish Sea:

There will be a need for additional checks on goods coming from Britain to Northern Ireland under the terms of the deal despite the creation of the shared customs territory.

The EU says industrial goods can "mostly take place in the market or at trader's premises" by UK officials. For agricultural products, checks at ports and airports that are already in place will be increased.

Transition period:

The transition period will last for 21 months from March 29 when the UK will formally leave the European Union.

A new addition to the treaty which was not seen in previous drafts is that the UK can request an extension (although only once) to the transition period. The period for which any extension could last has not been decided and it is hoped that may be pinned down ahead of the November 25 summit.

Irish Independent

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