Tuesday 11 December 2018

'No UK prime minister could agree to this deal'

May puts Brexit negotiations in fresh doubt as Dublin accused of bullying

UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson jogs in the snow in London yesterday. Photo: Leon Neal/Getty
UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson jogs in the snow in London yesterday. Photo: Leon Neal/Getty

Shona Murray

The Brexit process was once again plunged into disarray after Theresa May fiercely rejected a text drawn up by the European Commission, declaring: "No UK prime minister could ever agree to it."

The prime minister told MPs that the paper - which proposes a "common regulatory area" between the EU and Northern Ireland - would "threaten the constitutional integrity of the UK" by creating a border down the Irish Sea.

The publication caused uproar among Brexiteers and concern on this side of the Irish Sea that the process could be derailed. A hard Brexit is back on the horizon as the atmosphere between London and Brussels has reached toxic levels.

Conservative MP and arch-Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg accused the Irish Government of using the Northern Ireland Border to "bully the British" because Dublin sees how much it has to lose.

"It won't work," he said.

Asked if Mrs May was being duplicitous by agreeing to the backstop plan and then roundly rejecting it months later, Tánaiste Simon Coveney didn't rebuff the notion. "You'd have to ask her that," he replied.

"It is simply a translation of a political commitment that was made in December.

"It is very hard to interpret what we're reading in terms of legal text as anything different from that commitment.

"It has been committed to and promised by the British government, so there is no overreach in terms of sovereignty issues coming from the EU at all."

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said: "Hardline Brexiteers and some politicians in Northern Ireland will say 'No' and will be angry at what they see today, but just saying 'No' and being angry is not enough."

Read More: With exit just a year away, how did we get to this point?

But with just three weeks to go until a Brussels summit at which the remaining 27 EU nations were expected to approve the draft text, Mrs May made clear that she wants a rewrite of the 120-page document.

The EU text, released in Brussels by chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, puts into legal terms the agreement reached in December.

On the crucial issue of the Irish Border, it spells out how "regulatory alignment" would be implemented if the UK fails to find technological or diplomatic solutions to keeping the Border open. If such solutions are not found, the draft text states that "the territory of Northern Ireland, excluding the territorial waters of the United Kingdom ... shall be considered to be part of the customs territory of the union".

DUP MEP Diane Dodds said it amounted to an "intolerable interference" in the internal affairs of the UK.

Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald attacked the reaction from the British government and the DUP to the EU legal text.

Intervention

"The Tory-DUP axis is satisfied to treat the welfare of the people of this island as collateral damage so long as they achieve their 'little Englander' vision for Brexit," she said.

A further intervention from former UK Conservative prime minister John Major came later.

It needs to be realised that "Brexit is going to make people and their families worse off", he told Sky News.

"It seemed to me that somebody had to say that," he said. He called for the UK parliament to vote against the final deal.

Irish Independent

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