Ireland Backing May’s Idea for All-UK Customs Union with EU after Brexit, Report Says
Ireland’s government is backing an idea of UK Prime Minister Theresa May on how to achieve a breakthrough in the Brexit talks over the Irish border issue, namely, keep the entire UK in a customs union with the EU, according to a report.
The thorniest issue in the Brexit talks has been the Ireland – Northern Ireland border, and the EU demands for a “backstop” deal to prevent a hard border.
The UK has turned down EU suggestions that Northern Ireland remain in the EU customs area, while the EU has argued alternative solutions put forth by London would not prevent a hard border.
One of the proposals UK leader May is working on in order the break the deadlock on the Irish border issue is for the entire UK to participate in a customs union with the EU after Brexit, at least until a new trade deal is hammered out.
The proposal would avoid a hard border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, and has won the backing of Dublin, The Financial Times reports.
Ireland appears to be supporting it at least as temporary solution regardless of the fact that the possibility of the entire UK remaining in a customs union with the EU has been rejected by the EU’s Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier.
“It looks like it would resolve that issue [of the border]. Whether Europe accept it or not is another conversation,” a senior Irish official involved in Brexit talks is quoted as saying.
What is described as an “Irish intervention” could help May ahead of the EU summit on October 18, 2018, which until recently was touted by the EU as a deadline for achieving a Brexit deal. With no deal in sight, it seems like the deadline will have to be substantially pushed back.
Thus, May is expected to offer to meet the EU half way on the Irish backstop issue. She would agree to Brussels’ demands that Northern Ireland remain in the European single market to avoid a hard Irish border.
In exchange, she would want the EU to agree to let the entire UK stay in the customs union until an all-out EU – UK trade deal is finalized.
According to the report, such a “temporary” arrangement might actually drag well into the 2020s.
Ireland’s Cabinet of Leo Varadkar is in favor of the plan since it would avoid customs checks on the land border between the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland, and customs checks on Ireland’s trade with the UK which is worth EUR 65 billion.
Yet, it remains unlikely that the EU would agree to a legally binding arrangement in which the UK remains in a post-Brexit customs union as it could be used as a back door in the EU’s trade and regulatory regime without the responsibilities that come with EU membership.
“If [the UK is] accepting a customs union, what are they leaving? That’s the big question. If effectively they accept the customs union, they’re not leaving anything really,” the cited Irish official added.
May’s customs union proposal also is unlikely to fare well with her ruling coalition partners from Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party which has made it clear it would not accept any regulatory checks in the Irish Sea.
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