'Catastrophic': DUP verdict on EU vision for island of Ireland - SNP slams 'bumbling' Boris
The European Union's draft withdrawal proposal of a “common regulatory area” between the EU and Northern Ireland after Brexit has enraged unionists.
The plans envisage an area spanning the whole island of Ireland with no internal borders and free movement of goods.
- ‘Bumbling’ Foreign Secretary making UK a ‘laughing stock’, SNP says
- Prime Minister accuses Labour of Brexit betrayal amid claims she is ‘incapable’
- Theresa May rejects Brussels plan for EU withdrawal treaty
And it suggests that EU and UK customs authorities should jointly oversee movements between Northern Ireland and the British mainland, while Europe would retain control over aspects of taxation and state aid in the six counties.
DUP leader Arlene Foster attacked the plans describing them as "constitutionally unacceptable".
She said it would "be economically catastrophic" for Northern Ireland.
Theresa May said the text would "threaten the constitutional integrity of the UK" and told the House of Commons: "No UK prime minster could ever agree to it.
Mrs Foster said: "I welcome the Prime Minister's commitment that the Government will not allow any new border in the Irish Sea. Northern Ireland must have unfettered access to GB market."
Her party colleague Sammy Wilson had told the BBC's Daily Politics show that the deal was "unacceptable to the DUP and probably unacceptable to the British Government".
Released in Brussels by chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier just days before Prime Minister Theresa May sets out her own vision of post-Brexit relations on Friday, the text is likely to significantly heighten tensions in the long-running talks.
The EU text puts into legal terms the Joint Report agreed by Mrs May and European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker in December, and is due to be agreed by the remaining 27 EU states next month.
At a Brussels press conference, Mr Barnier signalled frustration at the lack of progress in the negotiations, telling reporters: “We must pick up the pace.”
He repeated his warning that agreement on the transition deal following Brexit sought by Mrs May is “not a given”.
On the crucial issue of the Irish border, the draft text spells out in detail how the principle of “regulatory alignment” agreed in December would be implemented if the UK fails to find technological or diplomatic solutions to keeping the border open.
If such solutions are not found, the draft text states, “the territory of Northern Ireland, excluding the territorial waters of the United Kingdom … shall be considered to be part of the customs territory of the Union”.
Customs controls would be “carried out jointly by the Union and the United Kingdom customs authorities competent for the territory of Northern Ireland”.
Northern Ireland would remain subject to EU restrictions restricting state aid for companies, in respect of measures affecting trade between the territory and the EU.
But the arrangements for the common regulatory area would cease to apply if and when alternative solutions are agreed to “address the unique circumstances on the island of Ireland, avoiding a hard border and protecting the 1998 Agreement in all its dimensions”.
The text provides for safeguards allowing the UK unilaterally to take time-limited “appropriate measures” in the case that its application leads to “serious economic, societal or environmental difficulties liable to persist”.
Ulster Unionist leader Robin Swann said the draft plan "was a complete non-starter" for Unionists.
“The EU and the Irish Government are playing a very dangerous game over Northern Ireland. It is absolutely clear that Leo Varadkar, supported by Michel Barnier, Guy Verhofstadt and other unelected officials in the EU are seeking to exploit Brexit in pursuit of Irish unity. Those who voted to stay in the EU, didn`t vote to leave the UK and those who voted to leave the EU didn`t vote to leave the UK either," he said.
“This continued sabre rattling from the Irish Government and EU officials has the potential to destroy relationships which have been built over decades and further divide what already is a polarised society. They are playing fast and loose with future relationships across these islands."
The Republic’s Foreign Minister, Simon Coveney, said the proposals amounted to a “backstop” option if a better arrangement cannot be found.
“This is very much a default and would only apply should it prove necessary. This is about delivering on our shared objectives of protecting the Good Friday Agreement and the gains of the peace process, no less, no more.”
He added: “This represents a logical outworking of the commitments made by the UK, including on protecting the Good Friday Agreement in all its parts and the gains of the peace process and avoiding a hard border on the island of Ireland.”