Wednesday 23 May 2018

Damage limitation rather than Brexit blame game should be the priority now

If Theresa May really does want to avoid lorry checks at the Irish border, Dover et al, it is high time she ended the complacency, writes Colm McCarthy

Theresa May. Photo: PA
Theresa May. Photo: PA
Colm McCarthy

Colm McCarthy

For the last two weeks, the UK government's bandwidth has been absorbed fully in the spat with Russia over the poisoning of two people in Salisbury. But the meeting this Thursday and Friday of the European Council, as soon as Theresa May has departed, must decide on rather more consequential matters: whether to adopt the Commission's draft of the withdrawal agreement and how to respond to the UK's request for a transition period post-Brexit. The UK has offered no alternative draft but has raised various objections to the Commission's proposals.

The Commission's chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, has warned that the offer of a transition period is conditional on settling the withdrawal terms, supposedly agreed in outline last December. Council president Donald Tusk has highlighted the primacy of agreement on keeping the Irish border open. No substantive negotiations appear to have taken place in recent weeks and the parties are still in conflict on the Irish border question. The UK side continues to place its faith in unspecified technological solutions, even though it intends that the UK, including Northern Ireland, will be outside both the customs union and the single market.

Last Friday the cross-party House of Commons committee on Northern Ireland offered the following conclusion on the feasibility of the UK's preferred, but yet-to-be-revealed, solution:

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