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Brexit: EU rejection of Irish border proposals is ‘opening position’

David Davis accused the EU of posturing by dismissing UK plans for keeping a soft Irish border today.

The Brexit Secretary said Brussels was engaging in negotiating tactics by rubbishing the ideas Britain had put forward for a so-called ‘customs partnership’ or streamlined arrangement.

He stressed that technology could solve many of the problems and held prevent a return to a hard border. 

Mr Davis also admitted that there would not be a full legal text of a future trade deal by time the Withdrawal agreement – including the controversial divorce bill – is voted on by parliament.

The bullish stance, in an appearance before the Commons Brexit committee, came as the DUP upped the pressure by making clear it is ready to bring down the government if Theresa May puts the integrity of the UK at risk.

David Davs took a bullish stance as he gave evidence to the Commons Brexit committee this morning (pictured)

EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier has said it is up to the UK to come up with a workable solution on the border

EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier has said it is up to the UK to come up with a workable solution on the border

Mr Davis was giving evidence to the committee chaired by Labour's Hilary Benn (pictured)

Mr Davis was giving evidence to the committee chaired by Labour’s Hilary Benn (pictured)

The fate of the border between the Republic and Northern Ireland has emerged as the biggest sticking point in the Brexit talks. 

The line will be the UK’s only land link with the EU once any transition period is over. 

Mrs May has repeatedly ruled out staying in a customs union with the EU – pointing out that it would prevent Britain striking deals with other countries.

But critics say that could be the only way to maintain a free flow of goods and people on the island of Ireland, which was guaranteed in the Good Friday Agreement that brought an end to the Troubles.

The UK side has set out two options for how the border could work after Brexit.

One would see a highly streamlined customs arrangement, using a combination of technology and goodwill to minimise the checks on trade.

There would be no entry or exit declarations for goods at the border, while ‘advanced’ IT and trusted trader schemes would remove the need for vehicles to be stopped. 

The second option has been described as a customs partnership, which would see the UK collect tariffs on behalf of the EU – along with its own tariffs for goods heading into the wider British market.

However, this option has been causing deep disquiet among Brexiteers who regard it as experimental. They fear it could become indistinguishable from actual membership of the customs union, and might collapse.  

Visiting the Northern Ireland border for the first time last night, Mr Davis was shown an autism centre and a former customs post between counties Armagh and Monaghan

Visiting the Northern Ireland border for the first time last night, Mr Davis was shown an autism centre and a former customs post between counties Armagh and Monaghan

Mr Davis said he was determined to get a deal with the EU on the post-Brexit Northern Ireland border by October

Mr Davis said he was determined to get a deal with the EU on the post-Brexit Northern Ireland border by October

Both options were apparently comprehensively rejected by EU officials at a bad-tempered meeting last week. 

EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier has said it is up to the UK to come up with a workable solution on the border. ‘We have done our share of the work,’ he said.

The DUP leader at Westminster, Nigel Dodds, told the ConservativeHome website that Northern Ireland must not be ‘treated differently’ from the rest of the UK.   

‘If, as a result of the Brexit negotiations for instance, there was to be any suggestion that Northern Ireland would be treated differently in a way, for instance that we were part of a customs union and a single market and the rest of the UK wasn’t … for us that would be a red line, which we would vote against the Government.’ 

He added: ‘You might as well have a Corbyn government pursuing openly its anti-Unionist policies as have a Conservative Government doing it by a different means.’ 

In his evidence to MPs today, Mr Davis rejected chairman Hilary Benn’s suggestion that the UK solutions had been ’emphatically’ ruled out by Brussels, insisting that the EU was simply setting out an ‘opening position’ in negotiations.

He told the committee the technology to deliver a near frictionless border – including number-plate recognition, authorised economic operator systems and electronic pre-authorisation – already exists and the Government has started talks with potential suppliers.

Mr Davis said it was his ‘hope’ that the first trade deal could come into force the day after the UK leaves. 

Asked if there was a risk of Britain staying in the customs union for an indefinite period while an problems with customs were resolved, he replied: ‘I do not expect the solution to that to be extension of membership of the customs union. ‘I would view that on my part as a failure.’ 

The DUP leader at Westminster, Nigel Dodds (pictured centre), told the ConservativeHome website that Northern Ireland must not be 'treated differently' from the rest of the UK

The DUP leader at Westminster, Nigel Dodds (pictured centre), told the ConservativeHome website that Northern Ireland must not be ‘treated differently’ from the rest of the UK

The Brexit Secretary insisted the deal that is agreed by October would be ‘substantive’. 

‘We will be voting for a bill of £35-£39billion. People want to know on the other side what we are getting in exchange. ‘The hardest time I’m going to have in October is people saying ‘what have we got for this?”

He denied the government was ‘winging it’ and describing the possibility of ‘no deal’ as ‘tiny’, Mr Davis added: ‘I think the massively higher probability is a deal.’

Mr Davis was speaking ahead of a the Brexit ‘war cabinet’ to discuss progress in negotiations.

The customs union is not on the formal agenda, but the issue is expected to surface again in the coming weeks with senior Brexiteers like Boris Johnson and Liam Fox wary of any concessions.

Addressing the Brexit Committee, Mr Davis restated Government promises of a ‘meaningful vote’ on the final deal, but confirmed that MPs and peers are likely at that stage to be presented with ‘a political declaration rather than a treaty draft’.

Asked by Mr Benn whether the motion would be amendable, the Brexit Secretary replied: ‘If you can tell me how to write an unamendable motion, I will take a tutorial.’

And pressed on whether ministers will regard the outcome as binding, Mr Davis said: ‘The Government is unlikely to put a vote to the House which it doesn’t intend to take properly seriously. If the House rejects the proposed negotiation, that negotiation will fall.’

EU admits its own Northern Ireland border plans are flawed

The EU has admitted that its own proposals for the Northern Ireland border are flawed.

Brussels has demand a ‘backstop’ protocol in the withdrawal treaty that would create a ‘common regulatory area’ between the north and south covering customs, agriculture, VAT, energy and product standards.

The arrangement would be implemented unless the UK comes up with any other workable solution. 

But a confidential memo obtained by The Times shows that the European Commission fears the plan could undermine the single market.

It suggests Northern Ireland could become a back door into the EU as there will be no border checks to prevent goods and services coming in.

‘A solution for the Irish border does not solve problems related to necessary alignment with the whole EU acquis (law),’ the diplomatic note said. 

‘Many goods have a considerable services component and a level playing field is not covered by alignment with relevant EU rules as foreseen in the backstop.’ 

Visiting the Northern Ireland border for the first time earlier this week, Mr Davis was shown a former customs post between counties Armagh and Monaghan.

He tweeted: ‘As we leave the EU it’s essential both the UK and EU do what it takes to keep the border, which I saw this morning, free from physical infrastructure.

 ‘We are determined to get this agreed by October.’

Mr Barnier stepped up the pressure in a speech in Germany earlier this week, warning that Britain’s position on quitting the single market and customs union means it is ‘closing doors’.

‘The European Council has made clear that, if the UK’s red lines were to evolve, the Union would be prepared to reconsider its offer,’ he said.

‘We are flexible, never dogmatic. We are open for business.

‘But of course any change from the UK must respect our principles, the principles we have built with the UK over 45 years.’

Mr Barnier said it was up to the Government to come up with its vision for the future that either finalised or changed the UK’s red lines.

‘It is now up to the UK to come up with its vision for the future, which should confirm the UK’s red lines or adapt them,’ he said.

‘Once we have more clarity from the UK, we will prepare a political declaration on the framework for the future relationship to accompany the withdrawal agreement in the autumn.’  

The government suffered a big defeat in the House of Lords this week over the customs union issue. 

There will be an important test of whether she can hold the line later this week when MPs stage a non-binding debate and vote – with crunch amendments to the Brexit and Trade Bills due to come to the Commons next month. 

Theresa May, pictured at a memorial for Stephen Lawrence yesterday, has insisted Britain will leave the EU single market and will not be in a customs union with the bloc

What are the options for the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic after Brexit?

Theresa May and Jean-Claude Juncker agreed the outline of a divorce deal in December

Theresa May and Jean-Claude Juncker agreed the outline of a divorce deal in December

Theresa May and the EU effectively fudged the Irish border issue in the Brexit divorce deal before Christmas.

But the commitments to leave the EU customs union, keep a soft border, and avoid divisions within the UK were always going to need reconciling at some stage. Currently 110million journeys take place across the border every year.

All sides in the negotiations insist they want to avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic, but their ideas for how the issues should be solved are very different.

If they fail to strike a deal it could mean a hard border on the island – which could potentially put the Good Friday Agreement at risk.

The agreement – struck in 1998 after years of tense negotiations and a series of failed ceasefires – brought to an end decades of the Troubles.

More than 3,500 people died in the ‘low level war’ that saw British Army checkpoints manning the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland. 

Both London and Dublin fear reinstalling a hard border – whether by checkpoints or other means – would raise tensions and provoke a renewal of extremism or even violence if people and goods were not able to freely cross.

The DUP – which opposed the Good Friday Agreement – is determined to maintain Northern Ireland inside the UK at all costs, while also insisting it wants an open border. 

The UK blueprint:

The PM has made clear her favoured outcome for Brexit is a deep free trade deal with the EU.

The UK side has set out two options for how the border could look.

One would see a highly streamlined customs arrangement, using a combination of technology and goodwill to minimise the checks on trade.

There would be no entry or exit declarations for goods at the border, while ‘advanced’ IT and trusted trader schemes would remove the need for vehicles to be stopped.

Boris Johnson has suggested that a slightly ‘harder’ border might be acceptable, as long as it was invisible and did not inhibit flow of people and goods.

However, critics say that cameras to read number plates would constitute physical infrastructure and be unacceptable.

The second option has been described as a customs partnership, which would see the UK collect tariffs on behalf of the EU – along with its own tariffs for goods heading into the wider British market.

However, this option has been causing deep disquiet among Brexiteers who regard it as experimental. They fear it could become indistinguishable from actual membership of the customs union, and might collapse.

Brussels has dismissed both options as ‘Narnia’ – insisting no-one has shown how they can work with the UK outside an EU customs union.

The EU blueprint:

The divorce deal set out a ‘fallback’ option under which the UK would maintain ‘full alignment’ with enough rules of the customs union and single market to prevent a hard border and protect the Good Friday Agreement.

The inclusion of this clause, at the demand of Ireland, almost wrecked the deal until Mrs May added a commitment that there would also be full alignment between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK. 

But the EU has now translated this option into a legal text – and hardened it further to make clear Northern Ireland would be fully within the EU customs union.

Mrs May says no Prime Minister could ever agree to such terms, as they would undermine the constitutional integrity of the UK.

A hard border:

Neither side wants a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic. 

But they appear to be locked in a cyclical dispute, with each adamant the other’s solutions are impossible to accept.

If there is no deal and the UK and EU reverts to basic World Trade Organisation (WTO) relationship, theoretically there would need to be physical border posts with customs checks on vehicles and goods.

That could prove catastrophic for the Good Friday Agreement, with fears terrorists would resurface and the cycle of violence escalate.

Many Brexiteers have suggested Britain could simply refuse to erect a hard border – and dare the EU to put up their own fences. 

WHY DO THE CUSTOMS UNION AND SINGLE MARKET MATTER AND WHAT COULD HAPPEN AFTER BREXIT?

When Britain stays in a custom union with Brussels (the European Commissions headquarters is pictured) is one of the main points of Brexit contention

When Britain stays in a custom union with Brussels (the European Commissions headquarters is pictured) is one of the main points of Brexit contention

The customs union and single market have emerged as crucial battlegrounds in the struggle over Brexit.

The customs arrangements could decide the fate of the overall deal – as the UK has already said it will ensure there is no hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic. 

Here are the main options for what could happen after Britain leaves the bloc.

Staying in the EU single market

A Norway-style arrangement would be the deepest possible without formally staying in the EU.

The single market rules out tariffs, quotas or taxes on trade, and guarantees free movement of goods, services, capital and – controversially – people.

It also seeks to harmonise rules on packaging, safety and standards. 

Staying in the EU customs union

The customs union allows EU states to exchange goods without tariffs, and impose common tariffs on imports from outside the bloc.

But they also prevent countries from striking deals outside the union.

Theresa May has repeatedly made clear that the UK will be leaving the customs union.

Forging a new customs union

Some MPs and the Labour leadership have raised the idea of creating a new customs union with the EU.

This could be looser than the existing arrangements, but still allow tariff free trade with the bloc. 

However, many Eurosceptics believe it is impossible to be in a union without hampering the UK’s ability to strike trade deals elsewhere.

They also complain that it would mean accepting the EU’s ‘protectionist’ tariffs against other parts of the world in areas like agriculture.

The PM has also ruled out this option. 

A customs partnership

Less formal than a union, this proposal would seek to cherry pick the elements that facilitate tariff-free trade – without binding the UK’s hands when it comes to deals with other countries.

One possibility could be keeping the UK and EU connected for trade in goods, but allowing divergence for the services sector.

The partnership option was floated by the government in a position paper last year.

‘Highly streamlined’ customs

This scenario would be a ‘bare minimum’ customs arrangement between the EU and UK.

New technology would be deployed alongside a simple agreement to minimise friction.

But there are fears that this could hit trade, and it is unclear how the system would work with a ‘soft’ Irish border. 



Read more at DailyMail.co.uk


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