Tuesday 21 November 2017

'Onus' on UK to solve Border, says EU

(Stock photo)
(Stock photo)

Sarah Collins

The EU is to publish "guiding principles" for upcoming Brexit talks on Ireland and Northern Ireland today.

The paper will seek to drive home the message that the "onus" is on the UK to provide solutions to Brexit-induced problems on the island of Ireland.

It will also try to tackle growing concerns that the UK is using Ireland as a test case for a future EU trade deal.

The four-page document, seen by the Irish Independent, does not provide solutions, but instead asks the UK to make a "political commitment" in its EU divorce deal to protecting the peace process and Good Friday Agreement.

It insists that commitments made on Northern Ireland be "unique" and not "preconfigure" anything that might be agreed in a future trade deal.

Specifically, it asks the UK to maintain existing cross-Border institutions, avoid a hard Border, continue North-south co-operation, protect equal rights and citizenship rights across the island of Ireland, and pay out remaining EU peace funds under the bloc's 2014-20 budget.

The EU also says the common travel area between Ireland and the UK should continue as it does now, including the ability for EU nationals to travel freely between Ireland and the UK without border checks. The UK agreed to this last week, one of the only positives to emerge after a tense third round of Brexit talks.

The European Commission paper, which was signed off by the Irish Government, does not delve into detail on customs or the Border. Those issues will be dealt with in a second phase of talks once the outlines of a divorce deal are in place. But the paper does insist that there be no "physical border infrastructure" on the island of Ireland.

"Border issues are broader than economic questions," the paper says. "The physical border itself was a symbol of division and conflict."

The EU wants agreement on Ireland, citizens' rights and the UK's financial obligations before it begins talks on trade, which both sides had hoped to start in October. The UK published a position paper on Ireland last month, but EU officials complained that it took Irish issues "hostage" in a bid to leapfrog the divorce deal and move talks on to trade.

Fine Gael MEP Brian Hayes said the issue is likely to lead to a "Mexican stand-off".

"My concern is that we will get to October with no deal," he told the Irish Independent. "The British are using Ireland and the whole Border question to try to move on from the divorce settlement to the future relationship."

Irish Independent

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