Belfast Telegraph

DUP fury over EU plan for Northern Ireland to stay in customs union

EU draft deal to avoid hard Irish border 'unacceptable'

By Shona Murray

Northern Ireland may be considered part of European Union customs territory after Brexit.

The draft deal agreed to protect the border will be published in Brussels today. The release of the draft treaty will be politically explosive and threatens to destabilise relations among all parties involved.

The DUP last night described the draft as unacceptable.

The 120-page document spells out in detail the so-called backstop for avoiding a hard border when the UK is no longer a member of the EU. The exact text - which will be legally binding when signed - will say "Northern Ireland shall be considered to be part of the customs territory of the European Union".

Essentially, in the event of no better arrangement, the EU's customs union will cover the whole island of Ireland and will be jointly managed by the EU and the UK.

It will also require Northern Ireland to maintain single market rules on any goods crossing the border.

According to RTE, joint EU-UK customs teams will be required to apply checks on goods coming from the UK into the new regulatory space, but will not specify where those checks will take place.

"There has to be a common regulatory area between NI and the rest of the EU," a source stated.

The draft has already sparked uproar in the DUP, whose MPs prop up Theresa May's Government at Westminster.

Both Irish and EU officials are bracing themselves for the backlash which once again raises the spectre of the UK crashing out of the EU with no deal.

Pro-Brexit unionists have already voiced their opposition to the plan.

DUP MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said: "This fundamentally breaches the understanding reached in December and would undermine the constitutional status of Northern Ireland in the Belfast Agreement.

"If the EU or Dublin believes the UK Government will be signing up to a border in the Irish Sea, they are deluded. The Taoiseach knows that."

And his DUP colleague Sammy Wilson told the BBC's Daily Politics show that the deal was "unacceptable to the DUP and probably unacceptable to the British Government".

TUV leader Jim Allister suggested the DUP should flex its parliamentary muscle to keep the Government in check. "It will be a test of the UK Government, which holds office only on the sufferance of unionists, as to whether it moves with the robustness required to derail Brussels' stratagem," he said.

"We are a province of the UK, not of the EU, and must emphatically remain so.

"Her Majesty's Government, and those who sustain it, should not shy away from the conclusion that in these circumstances 'no deal' is better than the type of destructive deal the draft treaty terms suggest."

But the European Parliament's Brexit co-ordinator said yesterday that Northern Ireland must continue to abide by EU regulations after Brexit in order to guarantee there will not be a hard border with the Republic.

Guy Verhofstadt told MEPs on the European Parliament's Constitutional Affairs Committee that there should be "no divergence" between Northern Ireland and its southern neighbour.

Instead, "norms, rules and standards" must stay the same after Brexit, he said.

The warning will come as a blow to Mrs May after senior Cabinet ministers agreed plans for "ambitious managed divergence" from EU rules post-Brexit.

Mr Verhofstadt said this was "unacceptable" to EU leaders.

The preamble of the treaty says it will protect the Good Friday Agreement and give legal effect to a commitment by London to come up with solutions to avoid the need for a hard border.

Option A is where the UK's and the EU's relationship remains as close as it is now, thereby negating the need for border checks. This is unlikely to occur because the UK says it is leaving the customs union and the single market.

Option B is for a solution to emerge through the use of a range of technical apparatus such as camera, barcodes and registration, to keep track of goods. Since no detail on such a system has been forthcoming from the UK, the draft treaty contains no detail on them.

However, it goes into full explanation how Option C, or the 'backstop' option, requires Northern Ireland to continue to follow EU rules and regulations of the single market and customs union. This would be necessary to protect cross border co-operation and the all-island economy.

Belfast Telegraph

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