EU paper warns Northern Ireland 'must remain' in single market

The sixth round of Brexit negotiations is coming to a close in Brussels

EU paper warns Northern Ireland 'must remain' in single market

Image: Pixabay/DanielDiazBardillo(CC0)

The European Union has warned that a hard border in Ireland can only be avoided if Northern Ireland stays in the single market following Brexit.

A new position paper from the EU Commission has said that the only way to maintain the Common Travel Area (CTA) and protect the Good Friday Agreement is for Northern Ireland to remain in both the single market and the customs union.

The paper which was originally reported in The Financial Times, notes that "an important part of political, economic, security, societal and agricultural activity on the island of Ireland currently operates on a cross-border basis, underpinned by joined EU membership of the EU and Ireland.”

“It consequently seems essential for the UK to commit to ensuring that a hard Border on the island of Ireland is avoided, including by ensuring no emergence of regulatory divergence from those rules of the internal market and the customs union,” the paper said.

Reversible

Meanwhile the man who wrote Article 50 has warned that the British people are being misled by claims the Brexit process cannot be reversed.

Veteran British diplomat John Kerr has said the UK can "change our minds at any stage of the process."

In a speech due to be delivered today he will say: "We are not required to withdraw just because (UK PM Theresa) May sent her letter."

"The fact is that a political decision has been made, in this country, to maintain that there can be no going back," he will say.

"Actually, the country still has a free choice about whether to proceed. As new facts emerge, people are entitled to take a different view.

"And there's nothing in Article 50 to stop them.

"I think the British people have the right to know this - they should not be misled."

It comes as the sixth round of negotiations come to a close in Brussels with British and EU negotiators are due to hold a press conference.

At the last round of talks, significant progress was made in terms of agreeing joint principles on maintaining the CTA between the UK and Ireland.

Transition period

The paper has been cautiously welcomed by the Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney who has said it is encouraging that the EU position is in sync with the Irish governments.

On Tuesday, he warned that a five-year transition period would be necessary to ensure a smooth Brexit, noting that the Irish border throws up "very complex issues to manage."

"The idea that these things would be rushed to somehow suit the electoral cycle in Britain, or for some other reason, for me is not the primary concern here," he told Newstalk.

"The primary concern is to make sure the relationship between Ireland & Britain remains strong, and the relationship between the EU and the UK also remains manageable, positive and strong."

Britain's Brexit Secretary David Davis however has moved to have official Brexit date in enshrined in UK law.

David Davis wants the official Brexit time of 11pm on March 29th 2019 to be enshrined in his Government's EU Withdrawal Bill.

Northern reaction

Sinn Féin has welcomed the EU paper, noting that it is a sign the Commission supports the idea of securing special status for Northern Ireland within the EU.

The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) meanwhile has repeatedly warned that it will not accept any deal that undermines the union between Britain and Northern Ireland.

The Northern Secretary James Brokenshire warned that negotiators need to ensure that nothing is done that undermines the integrity of the UK single market.

The Irish Government has called for the entire UK to remain in the Customs Union.

New reality

Meanwhile, children from both sides of the border are meeting today to discuss how Brexit will affect them.

They will hear from a range of experts and will discuss the potential impact of a hard border on their lives.

The Children's Ombudsman Dr Niall Muldoon set up the meeting in conjunction with his northern counterpart:

"We have consistently heard about the economic issues," he said. "We have consistently taxes and funding and enterprise and entrepreneurs and customs and borders but really children are the [...] people who are going to be living in this new reality in the future and we really need to take their voices and their rights seriously," he said.