EU de­mands put Brexit plan at risk

Marlborough Express - - WORLD -

BEL­GIUM: The Euro­pean Union is threat­en­ing Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May’s Brexit plan by warn­ing that North­ern Ire­land must sign up to Brus­sels rules and reg­u­la­tions if Bri­tain wishes to leave the Euro­pean cus­toms union and sin­gle mar­ket.

France and Ger­many are un­der­stood to have blocked Bri­tish plans to con­tinue ‘‘fudg­ing’’ the is­sue and are now in­sist­ing on a le­gal agree­ment, which EU sources say is likely to spark an ‘‘ex­plo­sive row’’ in the com­ing days.

North­ern Ire­land’s Demo­cratic Union­ist Party (DUP), which props up the Con­ser­va­tive mi­nor­ity gov­ern­ment in West­min­ster, will strongly op­pose the EU’s pro­posal, as will Con­ser­va­tive Brex­i­teers.

Bri­tish Brexit ne­go­tia­tors have pri­vately warned that the hard­line stance from Brus­sels has left them un­able to ne­go­ti­ate.

It is un­der­stood that the ap­proach will be set out in the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion’s draft with­drawal agree­ment, which is due to be pub­lished to­day. It would ef­fec­tively move the bor­der be­tween Bri­tain and the EU into the Irish Sea if Bri­tain wants to diverge from EU rules, ac­cord­ing to of­fi­cials who have seen it.

The le­gal text of the De­cem­ber Brexit deal is ex­pected to omit com­pro­mise lan­guage in­sisted upon by May that ‘‘no new reg­u­la­tory bar­ri­ers’’ would come into play be­tween main­land Bri­tain and North­ern Ire­land af­ter Brexit.

Af­ter weeks of try­ing to tem­per EU de­mands over the Irish bor­der ques­tion, Bri­tish ne­go­tia­tors are now in­creas­ingly re­signed to the EU re­ject­ing com­pro­mise, driven on by a hard­line Brexit agenda in Paris and Ber­lin.

The EU’s ap­proach emerged as Bri­tish Labour Party leader Jeremy Cor­byn com­mit­ted his party to keep­ing Bri­tain in a cus­toms union af­ter Brexit if he be­comes prime min­is­ter.

EU sources have said that mem­ber­ship of a cus­toms union with the EU – which May is con­tin­u­ing to rule out – could form the ba­sis of a com­pro­mise so­lu­tion as part of the fu­ture trade deal be­tween the United King­dom and the EU.

The text is ex­pected to ig­nore UK ideas for a com­pro­mise on the bor­der, fo­cus­ing in­stead on Bri­tain’s ‘‘fall­back’’ op­tion of full regu- la­tory align­ment be­tween Bri­tain and the EU to avoid a hard bor­der in Ire­land.

The loom­ing bat­tle has been caused by the EU’s de­ter­mi­na­tion to spell out in ‘‘op­er­a­tional de­tail’’ how the UK must make good on its pledge to avoid a re­turn to a hard bor­der af­ter Brexit.

Last De­cem­ber the UK set out its pre­ferred so­lu­tions to the bor­der ques­tion. How­ever, to the alarm of Bri­tish ne­go­tia­tors, it now seems clear that the draft text will fo­cus al­most en­tirely on the fall­back op­tion.

‘‘In prac­tice, the EU wants the Euro­pean Court of Jus­tice to have ju­ris­dic­tion over North­ern Ire­land, which will then be­come a rule-taker for large swathes of EU law,’’ said a source briefed on the text. One UK source de­scribed the EU ap­proach as ‘‘ou­tra­geous’’.

An EU source said the EU had de­cided it could no longer al­low the UK to duck the Irish is­sue and risk blow­ing up talks in Oc­to­ber.

The EU has re­fused to show UK of­fi­cials a for­mal draft of the text which was be­ing fi­nalised in Brus­sels yes­ter­day, but there is now scant hope it will soften.

Trade Sec­re­tary Liam Fox said that stay­ing in a cus­toms union with the EU af­ter Brexit ‘‘would be a com­plete sell­out of Bri­tain’s na­tional in­ter­ests’’.

While Bri­tain re­mains in the cus­toms deal, it can­not break away from Europe’s tar­iff regime to strike its own free trade deals with other coun­tries around the world.

– Tele­graph Group, Bloomberg

PHOTO: GETTY IM­AGES

Labour leader Jeremy Cor­byn has com­mit­ted his party to keep­ing Bri­tain in a cus­toms union af­ter Brexit if he be­comes prime min­is­ter.

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