Brexit agreement still within reach

Irish border, trade relations remain difficult to resolve issues

Photo: EPA Northern Ireland Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) leader Arlene Foster (R) and DUP EP member Diane Dodds (C) met with EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier in Brussels on 9 October.

A week ahead of the special summit on Brexit on 17 October EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier expressed faith that a deal is within reach, news wires reported. EU leaders are due to meet in Brussels next Wednesday in attempt to agree a withdrawal treaty with Britain that Barnier said was 80-85% ready, although few obstacles remain, notably on how to keep the new EU-UK land border with Northern Ireland from reviving conflict in the British province.

The EU is doing all it can to ensure checks on goods moving across Northern Ireland’s borders would be made “in the least intrusive way possible”, he said. But veterinary and food security controls will have to take place at the border. According to Barnier, Brexit would trigger the need for customs, VAT and compliance checks with EU standards between Ireland and Northern Ireland in the event that a planned “backstop” were triggered because a future EU-UK trade deal was not sufficient in itself to ensure the land frontier was not a “hard border”.

For customs and VAT, “we propose using the existing customs procedures to avoid doing checks at the transit points,” Barnier said adding that customs declarations could be done online in advance. “The only visible systematic checks between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK would involve scanning the bar codes on lorries or containers, which should be done on ferries or in transit ports,” he pointed out. For industrial goods it could be done by “market surveillance authorities”, on-site in the companies. But he said checks of animals and animal-derived products would still have to take place on the border and cover all of that trade.

The British government and leading politicians in Northern Ireland insist they will not agree to a withdrawal treaty that foresees the possibility of Northern Ireland being kept inside the EU's economic area while the British mainland is not. In London, British PM Theresa May met her ministers last Thursday to discuss Brexit, hours after her parliamentary partner, the Northern Ireland Democratic Unionist Party, threatened to withdraw its support if she accepts what it calls a “draconian solution” on offer from the EU.

A seamless border between the two Irelands is part of the settlement which largely ended decades of violence in the province. Neither side has indicated there has been a deal on the Irish backstop. But after meetings in Brussels, the DUP, which props up the Conservative government in parliament, has issued a series of terse warnings to May.

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