European Council President Donald Tusk has doubled down on demands that Northern Ireland remains tied to the European Union’s (EU) rules after Brexit, shortly before a critical meeting with Prime Minister Theresa May.
In a letter sent to Tory MPs Wednesday night, the Brexit secretary David Davis said the UK would refuse to pay the bloc the agreed Brexit “divorce bill” unless the EU backed down on the Northern Ireland issue.
However, Mr. Tusk refused to back down Thursday morning, which could lead to a tense meeting with the Prime Minister later in the day.
He said in a speech: “In a few hours I will be asking in London whether the UK government has a better idea that would be as effective in preventing a hard border.”
“There can be no frictionless trade outside of the Customs Union and Single Market,” he added, promising “negative consequences” if the UK insisting on taking back control of trade policy.
UK red lines will determine shape of our future relationship. Next week I will present draft guidelines on this. Let’s be clear: there can be no frictionless trade outside the customs union and Single Market. Friction is an inevitable side effect of #Brexit. By nature.
— Donald Tusk (@eucopresident) March 1, 2018
He claimed that “no one has come up with anything wiser” than the option outlined in the EU’s draft Brexit withdrawal text published Wednesday – with a sea border between the UK and Northern Ireland and the Irish border open.
Addressing a business conference in Brussels before leaving for lunch in London, he repeated the demand that Northern Ireland stays within a “common regulatory area” with the EU.
MPs and Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) have attacked Brussels bureaucrats for this approach, as an attempt to “annex” the Province.
Prime Minister Theresa May has promised to keep the Irish border open as well as keep Northern Ireland in “regulatory alignment” with the bloc.
However, she said Wednesday that the plan to keep Northern Ireland in the Customs Union would “undermine the constitutional integrity of the UK” as well as insisting she would never oversee the creation of a sea border between the Province and Britain.
It is not clear how all these promises can be simultaneously met.
— Bloomberg Brexit (@Brexit) March 1, 2018
UKIP’s interim leader, Gerard Batten, echoed Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson by insisting: “The EU is trying to divide Northern Ireland away from the UK and attempting to undermine and reverse the referendum decision.”
He continued in a statement: “Every party in Northern Ireland, Great Britain and the Irish Republic, along with both governments have said they wish to avoid a hard border.
“The only party saying they will put a hard border in place is the European Commission, ie Michel Barnier.
“The European Commission must not be allowed to annexe Northern Ireland or put a disruptive hard border in place. There are a number of solutions to the Irish border issue.”