Northern Ireland will remain locked in the European Union’s (EU) Single Market and Customs Union, a hardline draft withdrawal agreement seen by British negotiators has demanded.
The text, intended to be legally binding and expected to be published in two weeks, has been reported by anti-Brexit British newspaper the Guardian, which described the “uncompromising legal language of the draft agreement”.
According to the paper, the British government is expected to agree to the demands in the document, which will mean Northern Ireland is tied to EU laws and rules well after the so-called Brexit ‘transition period’.
Single Market membership includes open borders and free movement, and it is unclear how the rest of the UK would be protected from unlimited mass migration if Northern Ireland’s borders remain open.
The document will, however, include a so-called “sunset clause” which will allow Northern Ireland to escape the EU institutions if a trade deal or technical solution is found for the Irish border, which Brussels has demanded stays open.
Both Leave and Remain groups were quick to comment on the news:
Whether Northern Ireland stays in the Single Market is not up to the EU!https://t.co/SIN1AiJbyl
— Get Britain Out (@GetBritainOut) February 9, 2018
There is a solution to the NI border issue: staying in the Customs Union https://t.co/C6E0jg7bLx
— Open Britain (@Open_Britain) February 9, 2018
The deal is unlikely to be acceptable to Brexiteer Tory MPs and the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), which has said it will not accept Northern Ireland leaving the EU on different terms to the rest of the UK.
In December last year, the UK made a “gentleman’s agreement” with the EU to allow talks to move onto trade, promising that “in the absence of agreed solutions, the United Kingdom will maintain full alignment with those rules of the internal market and the customs union”.
The hardline draft withdrawal agreement reported Friday is being widely seen as the result of the promise of “regulatory alignment” made last year.
“There will be no wriggle room for the UK government,” said Philippe Lambert MEP, the leader of the Greens in the European Parliament, who was briefed in Strasbourg earlier this week by the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier.
“We are going to state exactly what we mean by regulatory alignment in the legal text. It will be very clear. This might cause some problems in the UK – but we didn’t create this mess.”