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Northern Ireland 'may be part of EU customs territory after Brexit': Report

By Jonathan Bell

A leaked legal text set to be adopted by the European Union on Brexit will include a proposal Northern Ireland my be considered part of the EU customs territory after the separation, according to a report by RTE.

The DUP has said such a proposal would be unacceptable to them and most likely the British Government.

The draft legal text for the withdrawal of the UK from the EU will be published in Brussels on Wednesday.

Irish broadcaster RTE described the text as "carefully worded" alluding to a single regulatory space on the island of Ireland with no internal barriers in order to avoid a hard border.

It is considered option C, or the "backstop" in the break-up talks.

The draft text, it is understood, will not say Northern Ireland will remain in the single market but that would be implied through EU single market legislation which will be applicable.

Option A, in that there will be no need for regulations given a future free-trading agreement and Option B which considered technological approaches were considered to have not been fully explored enough by the UK in order for the EU to go into them in detail.

The leaked paper, it's claimed, says if there is agreement on those options - which are preferred by the UK - then the single regulatory space, option C, will not apply.

Under option C, the leaked text goes into how it would work. 

It says there will be joint EU-UK customs teams to "apply checks on goods coming in from the UK into the new regulatory space". It does not say where these checks will take place.

The Irish government has said it would prefer options A or B but until there was further detail on those, option C had to be considered. The European Commission, however, has expressed concern over the first two options saying they had the potential to undermine the integrity of the EU single market and customs union.

It is simply unimaginable that there would be any barriers to trade across the Irish Sea. Diane Dodds

Earlier Guy Verhofstadt, the EU's Brexit co-ordinator, said he would fight for Northern Ireland to be subject to EU law

“It’s for us key that there will be in future, whatever the outcome of negotiations will be, no divergence in norms, rules or standards between the North and Republic of Ireland. That is our goal,” he said.

The DUP described his proposals as disastrous saying it effectively cut the region off from the rest of the UK.

"For the EU 27 to effectively propose creating a border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom is reckless," said MEP Diane Dodds.

"Crucially for Northern Ireland businesses, there was a clear commitment that Northern Ireland would have “unfettered” access to and from the United Kingdom internal market.

"The Government should rightly reject those aspects which don't reflect the balance of the agreement already made between the EU and Her Majesty’s Government.

"Brussels negotiators have lectured the UK that there can be no cherry picking of the obligations and responsibilities of previous agreements however on this occasion it seems to be a case of ‘do as I say but not as I do’."

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said he was satisfied the text will ensure there will be no hard border on the island of Ireland after Brexit.

Since the political deal on the contentious issue was struck in December, Mr Varadkar said the Government had sought to turn a political commitment into a legal text.

“I am satisfied that it puts down in law how we can avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland,” the Taoiseach said.

Simon Coveney, Irish Foreign Minister, met EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier on Tuesday to be briefed on the content of the text.

The Taoiseach spoke by phone with Prime Minister Theresa May on Monday night, ahead of the publication.

He said: “We cannot automatically assume it will be acceptable to the United Kingdom or acceptable to all the parties in Northern Ireland so we could have an interesting few weeks ahead of us.”

The draft text needs to become legal by October this year.

Earlier, Irish politicians rounded on Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson for comparing the border with Northern Ireland to divisions between London boroughs.

His suggestion that technology was the solution to the frontier question were mocked in political circles in Britain and drew disdain in Dublin and Belfast.

Stephen Donnelly, the Brexit spokesman for the opposition Fianna Fail party, recalled his years working in London after hearing Mr Johnson’s remarks.

“I lived in Camden for several years, and was never stopped crossing the ‘border’ to Islington,” he said.

“I have, however, had military rifles pointed at me when crossing into Northern Ireland in the 90s.

“Suggesting these borders are the same is extraordinary.”

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said: “When Boris Johnson decides to come down from the other planet that he clearly inhabits, he should visit the Irish border and see the scale of the challenge we’re facing with his own eyes before making further pronouncements.”

Under London’s post-Brexit trade plan the UK would examine existing regulations and decide whether it wanted to maintain, alter or abandon them in certain areas.

Sinn Fein’s Brexit spokesman David Cullinane called the Foreign Secretary’s intervention “silly” and “ignorant”.

“I do not think it will be a surprise for many people that Boris Johnson would make an ignorant observation when it comes to Ireland,” he said.

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