UK’s dual customs solution has baffled Brussels before this week’s critical EU summit
Michel Barnier has given Boris Johnson “one last chance” to settle on a plan for the Irish border that will avoid a hard border, protect the all-Ireland economy and avoiding the creation of a backdoor into the single market for smugglers and fraudsters. EU leaders will gather in Brussels on Thursday to sign off on such a plan, or start talking about a Brexit extension.
What is the UK’s current proposal?
Johnson conceded to the taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, last week that a deal involving the redrawing of a customs border between Northern Ireland and the Republic was not on the cards as it would lead to checks, controls and infrastructure on the island of Ireland.
The latest plan from Downing Street, albeit one first revealed by the Guardian as being in the government’s top draw in March 2018, is for a customs border in the Irish Sea – but only for goods travelling from Great Britain via Northern Ireland and on to the rest of the EU, including the Republic of Ireland.
Northern Ireland would be part of the UK’s customs territory, but there would be a channel system at the region’s two main ports and airport: a green channel for goods from Great Britain destined only for sale in Northern Ireland and avoiding the need for checks or constraint on their movement; and a red channel for goods destined for beyond the region that would undergo checks and controls.
There would be “draconian penalties for noncompliance” and goods would be tracked. There would be extra spot checks in the market to provide assurance that goods sold in the Republic Ireland met all the necessary requirements. Customs paperwork would be done ahead of time to allow those selling products in Northern Ireland to reclaim any differential in tariffs between the UK and the EU.
What does the EU say?
The European commission regards the dual customs plan as untested and a threat to the single market owing to the danger of fraud and smuggling. Barnier has raised the example of sugar entering Northern Ireland on a lower tariff but then being sold on as part of a fizzy drink in the Republic. He also argues that the technology could not possibly be in place by the end of the transition period at the end of 2020.
Barnier has suggested that any solution involving checks in the Irish Sea should be more based on the Irish backstop first proposed by the EU in February 2018: Northern Ireland stays in the EU’s customs territory and single market in goods. But he does appear to be open to some tweaking this to win over the UK parliament.
Northern Ireland could in legal theory be outside the EU’s customs territory as long as the full customs code was enforced at the border: there would be no exemptions, derogations or channels. But a British rebate system could ensure that those selling only into Northern Ireland were not financially hit by tariffs. A hard sell to the Democratic Unionist party. But, as Barnier likes to say, the clock is ticking.
With many thanks to: The Guardian and Daniel Boffey in Brussels for the original story
D.U.P. leader, Arlene Foster, is warning British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, that her party will never support a Northern Ireland only backstop.
Mrs. Foster issued the statement a few hours after Boris Johnson refused to rule out leaving Northern Ireland in the E.U.’s customs union while the rest of the U.K. would leave it.
D.U.P. leader, Arlene Foster and British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson.
D.U.P. leader, Arlene Foster and British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson.
“We have been consistent in our opposition to the backstop, whether U.K. or N.I. only, and anything that traps Northern Ireland in the European Union, whether Single Market or Customs Union, as the rest of the United Kingdom leaves will not have our support – the Prime Minister is very mindful of that,” said Mrs. Foster on Friday afternoon.
The suggestion that Northern Ireland could be left inside the E.U.’s customs union came less than 24 hours after Boris Johnson met with Irish Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, in Cheshire, England on Thursday.
In a joint statement, Mr. Johnson and Mr. Varadkar, said after the talks that they could see a “pathway” to a deal that would facilitate an orderly exit from the E.U. for the U.K.
“Understandably, there has been much speculation in the period since the Prime Minister met the Taoiseach yesterday,” said Mrs. Foster.
“Those discussions are a matter for the United Kingdom Government as they negotiate Brexit issues.
“However the Democratic Unionist Party, given its pivotal role in Parliament, and as the largest Northern Ireland party will always exercise our considerable influence in ensuring we stand up for Northern Ireland.
“We will only ever consider supporting arrangements that are in Northern Ireland’s long-term economic and constitutional interests.
“We are regularly in touch with the Prime Minister and as a result he is aware of our views.”
Mrs. Foster went on to say that anything concerning Northern Ireland and Brexit could only be considered as credible if it commands cross community support from both unionists and nationalists.
“The United Kingdom EU referendum result delivered the people’s verdict and it must be delivered. To do otherwise would be anti-democratic.
“We have argued that it is important to secure a balanced and sensible deal as we leave the European Union.
Boris Johnson refuses to rule out leaving…
“Those who know anything about Northern Ireland will appreciate that these issues will only work with the support of the unionist as well as the nationalist community.”
Whilst sounding somewhat sceptical about what may or may not have been agreed by Prime Minister Johnson, Mrs. Foster said she would reserve judgement until it is brought before her and the rest of the D.U.P. over the next few days.
“The DUP has always indicated that the United Kingdom must leave the EU as one nation and in so doing that no barriers to trade are erected within the UK.
“In December 2017 we insisted that democratic consent was required in circumstances where Northern Ireland would align alongside specific sectors of the EU single market.
“Paragraph 50 of the Joint Report between the United Kingdom and the European Union outlined the requirement for such consent. We have held steadfast to that position whilst recognising the need to be flexible and look at Northern Ireland specific solutions achieved with the support and consent of the representatives of the people of Northern Ireland.”
Mrs. Foster added: “In order to secure a sensible deal for everyone it is important that the European Union understand that to maximise the prospects of agreement there will need to be a clear acceptance that the economic and constitutional integrity of the whole of the United Kingdom will have to be respected as we leave.
“As a consequence of the mandate given to us by voters in 2017 the DUP is very relevant in the Parliamentary arithmetic and regardless of the ups and downs of the Brexit discussions that has not changed.
“We will judge any outcome reached by the Prime Minister against the criteria above.”
With many thanks to the: Derry Journal and Andrew Quinn for the original story
Don’t forget everyone the DUP are lying to everyone! And the elections are just around the corner. ‘PUT YOUR VOTE WHERE YOUR MOUTH IS!
Stephen Barclay also says government willing to discuss detail of customs proposals
The Brexit secretary has hinted that the government could amend its proposal to give the Democratic Unionist party an effective veto over its plan for an alternative to the Irish backstop
With EU leaders not willing to accept the UK’s ideas and talks between the two sides suspended over the weekend when Boris Johnson had been hoping to intensify them, Stephen Barclay said on Sunday that the government would be willing to discuss changes to the mechanism designed to ensure the new arrangements receive political approval in Northern Ireland.
Can Boris Johnson’s border plan break the Brexit deadlock?
In rhetorical terms the government has shifted considerably from what it was saying just before it published its plan for an alternative to the backstop on Wednesday, when it was insisting this would be its “final offer” to the EU.
But the gap between the two sides remains considerable, and Barclay’s emollient language may be motivated as much by a desire to deflect accusations that the government is being unreasonable as by any serious expectation of a deal being reached before the EU summit starting on 17 October.
Under the UK plan, Northern Ireland would remain in the EU single market for goods after Brexit but in the UK customs territory. This arrangement, intended to avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, would depend on the Northern Ireland assembly voting for it, and continuing to vote for it every four years.
One objection to this is that the assembly is currently suspended. Another is that, under the “petition of concern” mechanism used for contentious issues in the assembly, votes have to be agreed not just by a narrow majority but with the backing of a significant block of both unionist and nationalist assembly members. In practice this means the main unionist and nationalist parties, the DUP and Sinn Féin, can exercise a veto.
Why is the Irish border a stumbling block for Brexit?
The No 10 plan envisages the assembly having to vote for Northern Ireland joining the EU single market for goods, meaning the vote could only be won with DUP support. If the default were for Northern Ireland to be in that arrangement, only exiting if the assembly voted to leave, then in practice it would be Sinn Féin that had the veto.
On Friday Julian Smith, the Northern Ireland secretary, was told by some of the non-DUP parties in Northern Ireland that what was being proposed was a non-starter.
One source with knowledge of the meeting said: “The message has gone back from all quarters in Northern Ireland, from Sinn Féin to the Traditional Unionist Voice, that this is unworkable and it will destabilise the institutions and the Good Friday agreement and is not plausible – and in light of that, if [Smith] is serious about getting a deal, he has to come back with something more realistic.”
On Sunday, in an interview on the BBC’s The Andrew Marr Show, Barclay indicated the government might consider moving on this. Asked if he was willing to change the system being used to ensure the new arrangements had the backing of the people on the island of Ireland, he replied: “The key issue is the principle of consent.
“Now, the mechanism – we’ve set out proposals in our legal text. We can obviously, as part of the intense negotiations in the coming days, discuss that mechanism.”
Barclay was also asked if the UK would shift on its plans for minimal customs checks, away from the border, on goods travelling between Northern Ireland and Ireland. These are currently unacceptable to EU leaders who complain they are too vague and that they would in practice fail to protect the integrity of the single market and the customs union.
Asked if the government was willing to compromise further on customs, Barclay said: “We’ve set out a broad landing zone. In the detail of the negotiations, of course we can get into the detail as to how operationally they work, what legal certainty is required by the commission.”
In public ministers have sounded relatively conciliatory in recent days, while also stressing that the UK will leave the EU on 31 October despite parliament having passed a law, the Benn act, intended to stop a no-deal Brexit. In private government sources have been briefing that the prime minister might subvert the act, and even try ignoring a vote in parliament for him to be replaced by someone else as leader of an interim government.
Asked if Johnson would comply with the Benn act, which requires him to write to the EU by 19 October requesting a Brexit extension if no deal has been agreed by then, and if MPs have not voted to authorise no deal, Barclay replied: “I can absolutely confirm that the government will abide by the law. The prime minister is clear on that.”
Asked if that meant he would send the letter, Barclay said: “Whatever the law says, we will comply with the law.”
But Barclay sidestepped a question about why a “senior No 10 source” told the BBC that Johnson was not prevented by the Benn act “from doing other things that cause no delay”, including sending messages to EU countries intended to persuade them to reject an extension.
In a separate interview on the Andrew Marr Show, Shami Chakrabarti, the shadow attorney general, said Johnson would be acting unlawfully if he did this.
“If you send the letter, as you are required to under the law, and then seek to undermine it by other means, you have not kept faith with the law. You have not fulfilled your specific statutory duty to seek an extension. That would be unlawful conduct,” she said.
With many thanks to: The Guardian and Andrew Sparrow and Lisa O’Carroll for the original story
Tanaiste Simon Coveney said Boris Johnson’s proposal for customs checks on the island also presentsa ‘real problem’.
Ireland will not support any Brexit deal which would let a Stormont minority veto the wishes of a majority in Northern Ireland, Simon Coveney has said.
The Irish deputy premier said Boris Johnson’s proposal for customs checks on the island also presented a “real problem”.
Mr Coveney said that, while the plan tabled by the Prime Minister did not provide the basis for a final agreement with the EU, it did represent “progress” and could potentially be a “stepping stone” towards a resolution.
Mr Johnson wants to give the currently defunct Northern Ireland Assembly a vote on whether to opt in to his proposed all-island regulatory system post-Brexit, and also give the devolved legislature a say on whether it wants to continue the arrangement after an initial four-year period.
A contentious Stormont voting mechanism – called the petition of concern – means a bloc of Assembly Members from either the nationalist or the unionist community can veto certain decisions, even if a majority of MLAs back them.
We cannot support any proposal that suggests that one party or indeed a minority in Northern Ireland could make the decision for the majority in terms of how these proposals would be implemented in the future
Addressing the Dail parliament in Dublin, Mr Coveney said: “We cannot support any proposal that suggests that one party or indeed a minority in Northern Ireland could make the decision for the majority in terms of how these proposals would be implemented in the future.
“That is not consistent with the Good Friday Agreement. It is not something we could possibly support as part of any final deal.”
Mr Coveney said the proposal for full regulatory alignment for goods and agri-food products was consistent with the backstop.
But he said it would not work if a Stormont minority could veto it.
“We cannot support any proposal that essentially suggests that a minority can determine what the majority have to live with, it’s just not going to work,” he said.
“And if that is the proposal, I believe it would be very, very difficult to get an Executive up and running.
“Why would other parties buy into an Executive if they believe that Executive could essentially prevent solutions linked to Brexit?”
He added: “There is no point in having a whole series of proposals, even if those proposals make sense and work, if they can essentially be vetoed by a minority or one party in Northern Ireland to the frustration of the majority.”
Mr Coveney also said the proposal for Northern Ireland to operate under a different customs regime from Ireland presented “legal and technical” problems.
“Despite this paper saying they want to avoid customs checks, they do raise the prospect of customs checks somewhere, not just in premises and businesses, and we think that’s going to be a real problem,” he said.
The Tanaiste said that would potentially undermine the commitment for no border infrastructure.
Ireland has not been treated well at different periods during these negotiations … but, that being said, we need to work with the negotiating team that is there in front of us
Mr Coveney said he believed Mr Johnson wants a deal, but he said people have a right to be sceptical, suggesting Ireland has not been treated well by the UK to date.
“I believe the British Government want to get a deal but I would certainly forgive anybody for being sceptical,” he said.
“Ireland has not been treated well at different periods during these negotiations because the policy and the proposals and the approach of the UK has shifted towards Ireland at different times.
“But, that being said, we need to work with the negotiating team that is there in front of us, that’s what we are doing.
“There is a serious proposal now on the table, it won’t be the basis of final agreement but I hope it can be a stepping stone in that direction.”
He said there was a need for “honesty” in terms of what was possible in a final deal.
“If that is the final proposal there will be no deal, there are a number of fundamental problems with that proposal,” he said.
He added: “There are elements of this proposal that simply will not be part of any deal.”
But Mr Coveney said the plan did represent progress and that Ireland and EU are taking it “seriously”.
“We need to recognise progress because it’s difficult to find progress at the moment,” he said.
With many thanks to the: Belfast Telegraph and David Young PA for the original story
More than half of all leave voters are now planning to vote for Boris Johnson
Despite a week of political chaos that has seen Boris Johnson purge the party of 21 MPs who oppose his plans, the Tories recorded a 10-point lead over Labour. For the first time since March, more than half (53%) of leave voters now intend to vote Conservative. Almost half of all voters (46%) now think the Conservative party has in effect become the Brexit party.
The polling will be used by Johnson’s team as evidence that their ruthless strategy to push hard to secure Brexit and hold an election can work. However, the strategy has run aground as opposition parties are blocking an election from taking place.
Anti-Brexit protesters decry Johnson’s ‘coup’ in London and Leeds
The Conservatives are up 3 points to 35% of the vote, while the Brexit party is down 3 points to 13%. The Liberal Democrats are up 2 points to 17%, with Labour down 1 point to 25%.
Opinium said there was a considerable amount of voter churn, with only the Lib Dems retaining an overwhelming proportion of their vote from the last election (83% of 2017 Lib Dems would vote for the party again). Both the Conservatives and Labour are on track to lose votes to the Lib Dems among their remainer wing and lose votes to the Brexit party from their leave wing.
For the first time since the 2017 general election, Opinium said it was recording a direct shift in votes between the two major parties. Just over a fifth (22%) of Labour leave voters are now intending to vote Conservative.
Boris Johnson ‘could be jailed for refusing to seek Brexit delay’
Johnson’s personal ratings have been dented after his bruising week in the Commons. Now only just over a third (36%) think he would be the best prime minister, down from 41% last month. However, Jeremy Corbyn is not benefiting from Johnson’s troubles. Only 16% say he would be the best prime minister.
Only 37% approve of the way that Johnson is handling the Brexit process, while 43% disapprove. However, that is better than than the ratings for Corbyn. Just 17% approve of the Labour leader’s response, and 20% approve of Jo Swinson’s.
Johnson’s decision to prorogue parliament has not upset leave voters. The public as a whole is divided on this: 33% support the prime minister’s prorogation of parliament, while 36% oppose it. This is split evenly along EU referendum lines: 59% of leavers support the prorogation, while 61% of remainers oppose it.
Adam Drummond, the head of political polling at Opinium, said: “We’re facing unprecedented times in Westminster, and it’s very difficult to predict what will happen in the next few days, let alone further beyond. While Boris Johnson isn’t garnering much support from the public, he does at least remain ahead of his closest rivals, and more than double the amount of people approve of the way he has handled Brexit compared with Jeremy Corbyn.
“The reason for these numbers is that Boris Johnson has invited the clear disapproval of remainers on Brexit, in return for the clear backing of leave voters. On the other hand, opposition leaders have managed to unite leave voters in disapproving of their response to the government without succeeding in wholeheartedly winning over remainers.”
Opinium polled 2,009 people online from 4-6 September.
With many thanks to: The Guardian Newspaper and Michael Savage (Policy Editor) for the original story
The Irish government has stressed its commitment to protecting the rights of Irish citizens in Northern Ireland.
It follows social media concerns that a change in UK immigration rules could mean some lose rights after Brexit.
Under the Good Friday peace agreement, anyone born in Northern Ireland has the right to be British, Irish or both.
The issue of citizenship was raised the last time Theresa May was in Northern Ireland and she said she would pass the concerns to the Home Office.
‘No deal does not mean hard border’
Q&A: The Irish border Brexit backstop
Call for new UK-Irish treaty on Common Travel Area
On Wednesday, the issue was raised in the Seanad (Irish senate) by Sinn Féin senator Niall Ó Donnghaile.
He said it was “crunch time” and called on the Irish government to give clarity after the speculation that a “tiered level of citizenship” could come into existence.
In response, Ireland’s European Affairs Minister Helen McEntee, said it was “vitally important” the citizenship and identity provisions of the Good Friday Agreement were upheld.
“We are fully aware of the concerns that have been raised here today and concerns from many that these statements raise for Irish citizens in Northern Ireland particularly, given so much of the uncertainty that surrounds Brexit at the moment,” she said.
Mrs McEntee said her government had “noted” there had been an update to the UK immigration rules “in order to give effect to the UK settled status schemes and the letter from the UK minister of state for immigration, Caroline Nokes”.
“It is important to be clear that these statements in no way change the position that the EU citizenship of Irish citizens in Northern Ireland continues in all circumstances,” she added.
“As EU citizens, they continue to enjoy the right to live and work throughout the EU and the right not to be discriminated against on the grounds of nationality.”
In a statement, the Home Office told the BBC that it respected identity rights, as set out in the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.