Michael Staines
Michael Staines

17.09 8 Mar 2019


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Michel Barnier has said the EU is prepared to offer the UK a way to unilaterally remove itself from the bloc’s Customs Union as part of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement - provided the backstop continues to apply to Northern Ireland.

Noting that the UK would not be “forced into customs union against its will,” he said the proposal would allow the UK to leave the union while maintaining all the other elements of the backstop to avoid a hard border in Ireland

The offer is similar to the original backstop proposal – which would see a joint UK/EU customs territory established in Northern Ireland.

That proposal was opposed by the DUP and sections of the Conservative Party who claimed it would create a border in the Irish Sea.

This evening, DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds said Mr Barnier's offer was "neither realistic nor sensible."

"It disrespects the constitutional and economic integrity of the United Kingdom," he said.

"This is an attempt to get ahead of a possible blame game and appear positive when in reality it is going backwards to something rejected a year ago.

"We need to work for a sensible deal which can work for everyone in Northern Ireland.  It is possible but there must be less intransigence in Brussels."

Meanwhile, the UK Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay said the UK had “put forward clear new proposals” and called for a “balanced solution that can work for both sides.”

Backstop

This afternoon, the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar meanwhile called on the UK Government to change its position and noted that a new poll published in The Irish Times had found that clear majority of people in Northern Ireland support the backstop.

"If Northern Ireland and the people of Northern Ireland and Northern Irish society is in favour of the backstop, why would the UK House of Commons prevent the backstop from applying to Northern Ireland?" he asked.

"If they don't wish it to apply to Great Britain, that is their decision.

"Why would they go against the wishes of the people of Northern Ireland, the majority of politicians in Northern Ireland,  business, civil society and farmers in Northern Ireland - who all accept and agree that the backstop should be part of the Withdrawal Agreement."

Varadkar Brexit File photo of Taoiseach Leo Varadkar speaking to the media after a meeting with business representatives in Northern Ireland.

 

UK decision

After Mr Barnier's tweet a Government spokesperson said: “These negotiations on the political declaration are taking place between Michel Barnier’s Taskforce and the UK."

"The Government welcomes the fact that Michel Barnier continues to stand up for the interests of the whole of the EU, including Ireland.

"The Taoiseach has repeatedly made clear that he would not oppose a backstop which is specific to Northern Ireland, if that is deemed helpful, but that would have to be a decision for the UK."

Brexit

Mr Barnier tweeted the offer after briefing the EU27 Ambassadors and the European Parliament today on the ongoing talks with the UK.

He noted that the UK was already capable of winning “a proportionate suspension of its obligations under the backstop, as a last resort” if the arbitration panel finds that the EU has breached its obligation to negotiate alternative solutions to the backstop in good faith.

He said the EU was ready to give legal force to commitments made by the European Council president Donald Tusk and the European Commission President Jean Claude Juncker in January regarding the backstop.

He said this give the arbitration more power to judge whether the EU is working to implement alternative solution in good faith.

He  said the EU would continue to work intensively over the coming days to ensure the UK leaves the EU with an agreement.


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