Belfast Telegraph

EU say Government's backstop plan will lead to hard border in Ireland

Prime Minister Theresa May's new Brexit backstop plan will lead to a hard border in Ireland, the European Commission has said.

The customs plan which was released on Thursday could keep the United Kingdom within the EU Custom's Union until 2021.

The paper is the Government's counter to an EU proposal to keep Northern Ireland in the customs union after Brexit, which was rejected outright by Mrs May because it would mean a border in the Irish Sea.

However, EU negotiator Michel Barnier rejected the plan saying it would not be feasible to include the whole of the United Kingdom in the Backstop plan.

A presentation from the EU's negotiating team has said that the Prime Minister's proposal "leaves key questions unanswered" and that it could lead to border checks for goods.

The presentation said that the proposal “does not cover regulatory controls, leading to a hard border”.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said he was “incredibly angry and incredibly frustrated” by the proposal.

Speaking ahead of the two day long Brexit debate on the EU Withdrawal Bill, Mr Eastwood said there was a “genuine opportunity” for MPs to do the right thing by Ireland and warned those who choose not to will be “complicit in delivering a hard Brexit and a hard border”

“The EU Commission has confirmed what we all feared - the British Government’s proposals on the backstop aren’t good enough. The Commission has warned that the current proposals from the British Government would lead to hard border in Ireland - that is simply unacceptable," the Foyle MLA said.

“I am incredibly angry and incredibly frustrated that we have reached this point. A point where the British still have failed to put the seriousness of the border issue to the top of the agenda. We should not be an after thought."

Mr Eastwood called on MPs to vote to stop a hard border in Ireland.

“With news that we may have to wait until October to get reassurances from the UK Government that there will be no hard border - others across these islands need to wake up. We cannot allow the British Government to sleep walk into disaster," the SDLP leader said.

“A difficult and dangerous disaster for those of us living in this part of Ireland.

“This week there is a genuine opportunity for MPs to do the right thing. To vote in Westminster to stop a hard Brexit and stop a hard border in Ireland. That means backing alignment with the Customs Union and the Single Market. It also means fully supporting the Good Friday Agreement."

A UK Government spokesperson said that the Prime Minister will not agree to a hard border.

“The Prime Minster has been clear that we will never accept a customs border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom. We are also committed to maintaining the integrity of our own internal market," the spokesperson said.

"That position will not change. The Commission’s proposals did not achieve this, which is why we have put forward our own backstop solutions for customs.

“All parties must recall their commitment in the Joint Report to protect the Belfast Agreement in all its parts.

“Michel Barnier confirmed on Friday that discussions will now continue on our proposal.”

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