Soft Brexit proposal welcomed on both sides of Irish border

The Irish government says Theresa May’s proposals for Brexit “deserve consideration” but has warned that much work needs to be done to get to a deal.

Echoing the chief EU Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, the country’s deputy prime minister, Simon Coveney, said it needs to see the white paper before it can progress to negotiations.

Simon Coveney

Statement by British Govt on #Brexit last night needs and deserves detailed consideration. We look forward to publication of white paper next week so that the EU task force can examine new UK approach. Lots of work ahead.

July 7, 2018

In a statement issued on Saturday, Coveney reiterated the need for a permanent backstop for the Irish border, which would provide what Ireland sees as an “insurance policy” in the event of a change of government or a no-deal scenario.

“Ireland’s position is that we want to see the closest possible relationship between the EU and the UK. On the backstop for the border, our position remains clear.

“While our preference is still for an overall EU-UK relationship which would resolve all issues, it remains essential that a backstop is agreed which provides certainty that in any circumstances, and no matter what the outcome of the negotiations on the EU-UK future relationship, a hard border will be avoided,” he said.

He called on the UK to step up their efforts amid warnings that there are only weeks to the October deadline for a deal.

“Time is short. I am in regular contact with Michel Barnier and my officials are working day in and day out with the taskforce team he leads,” he said.

The British Irish Chamber of Commerce warned any attempt to strike a Brexit deal for goods only would be resisted by business leaders.

The group’s director general, John McGrane, said that it would be a “fudge” and unworkable.

“She is working very, very hard, moving millimetre by millimetre, and to say we could end up in some customs arrangement is a good thing.

“But the whole point about trade is that it is not just goods. Goods do not exist in isolation. Services include the haulage sector, the creative sector, the tech sector – services simply cannot be left behind,” he said.

He also said that a goods-only deal would not remove the need for an Irish border, with the issue of freedom of movement of people across the border impacting EU citizen employees, tourism and communities.

The Democratic Unionist party, which threatened to torpedo May’s December deal over the border plan, has welcomed the proposal, describing it as a “reaffirmation of what is an absolute priority for us”, claiming it would be bad news for “republicans” who want to break up the United Kingdom.

“It is clear the whole country will leave the EU together. Republicans may be disappointed as they tried their best to seize this as an opportunity to weaken the union,” said the DUP deputy leader, Nigel Dodds.

Sinn Féin has argued for a special bespoke deal for Northern Ireland.

Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, gave the proposal a guarded welcome.

She said it showed there was “more realism” and the plan was “hopefully a step forward”.

However, she said the plan for a foot in the single market for goods and not for services sounded like the very “cherry-picking” the EU have rejected.

But she said the softening of red lines meant it was “game on for those who would prefer to see a full single market/customs union outcome”.

Nicola Sturgeon

Some quick thoughts on #chequers outcome…
1. There is more realism in it than we’ve seen before from UK government (though that’s not saying much!) – so, to that extent, hopefully a step forward. However…

July 7, 2018

The statement on Friday night makes it clear that May believes the proposal for a free trade area on goods and agriculture will obviate the need for infrastructure and checks at the Irish border.

“This [the plan] would avoid friction at the border, protect jobs and livelihoods, and ensure both sides meet their commitments to Northern Ireland through the overall future relationship,” it said.

It said the UK would be “honouring the letter and the spirit of the Belfast agreement” on peace signed 20 years ago and the deal would be so deep and comprehensive the “backstop” agreed in December would “not need to be brought into effect”.

Brussels has made it clear from the outset that the backstop is mandatory and without it a withdrawal agreement cannot be struck or a transition period arranged.


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