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British Government's Irish border proposals 'comprehensively' rejected by EU

By Mark Edwards

The British government has said it will protect Northern Ireland’s place in the UK internal market after reports emerged the EU has “comprehensively rejected” all British proposals for avoiding a hard border in Ireland.

A report by the Daily Telegraph claims senior EU diplomatic sources said Theresa May’s plan for avoiding a hard border was subjected to a “systematic and forensic annihilation” this week at a meeting between EU officials and Olly Robbins, the UK’s lead Brexit negotiator.

The source told the Daily Telegraph: “It was made clear that none of the UK’s customs options will work. None of them.”

The move by EU negotiators cast doubts on the UK’s ability to leave the customs union.

Responding to the story, a Government spokesman said: “We have been clear that we will protect Northern Ireland’s place in the UK internal market.

“That commitment was set out in December’s Joint Report which also includes our guarantee of avoiding a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland.

“As the PM’s letter to Donald Tusk said, we have made our position on aspects of the draft Commission Protocol clear.

“We have agreed that the areas covered in the draft must reflect those that meet our shared commitments.

“And we are continuing an intensive work programme to engage on all the scenarios set out in the Joint Report.”

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Map of the Irish border (PA Graphics)

The Prime Minister has proposed two options for avoiding a hard border in Northern Ireland while retaining the ability to set tariffs.

  • A "customs partnership" in which the UK would collect duties on the EU's behalf for goods that were destined for the EU.
  • A "highly streamlined customs arrangement" which would combine "trusted trader" schemes with technology.

Sinn Fein deputy leader Michelle O'Neill said: "The Brexit negotiations are reaching a crucial stage and there is just a matter of weeks left to find a solution.

“To date, the British Government have failed to produce anything remotely credible that would avoid a hard border in the event of them leaving the customs union and the single market.

“If these latest reports are accurate, it would seem that the EU have strongly rejected the plan set out by Theresa May last month as unworkable.

"If the British Government continue to fail to produce credible and workable proposals to avoid a hard border, and persist with leaving the customs union, then the backstop becomes the only possible scenario on the table. 

“It would allow the north to remain in the customs union and significant elements of the single market and the EU and the Irish government in particular must now ensure that is maintained and upheld and that the British government are not allowed to renege on the commitments it has already entered into."

The news follows the Government’s first defeat in the House of Lords over the EU Withdrawal Bill, with peers voting for an amendment that favours staying in the customs union.

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