- REUTERS/Hannah McKay
- Theresa May’s government wants both Ireland and Northern Ireland to continue using EU rules after Brexit in order to avoid a hard border, according to a leaked text.
- British negotiators see this as the only way of avoiding a hard border without remaining members of the single market and customs union.
- DUP leader Arlene Foster has said she will not accept this sort of deal.
- Crunch Brexit talks got underway in Brussels this morning.
LONDON – The UK government is willing to “concede” that there will be no divergence of rules covering the single market and customs union on the island of Ireland after Brexit, in what could be a key moment in negotiations.
If approved by the Irish government and incorporated into a final Brexit deal, the concession would provide a framework for maintaining an invisible border between Ireland and Northern Ireland after the UK leaves the EU.
In a text currently being worked on by negotiators, the UK will agree that there’ll be “regulatory alignment” on market and customs rules between both sides of the border, according to Irish news outlet RTE.
In practice, this concession would have major implications for Northern Ireland, as it would require it to stay as close as possible to EU rules in order to maintain seamless, free movement of goods and people across the border.
DUP leader Arlene Foster has said that her party would oppose any move to keep Northern Ireland wedded to EU rules as they fear it would create barriers between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.
“We will not support any arrangements that create barriers to trade between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom or any suggestion that Northern Ireland, unlike the rest of the UK, will have to mirror European regulations,” Foster told a recent DUP conference.
“The economic reality is that our most important trading relationship is with the rest of the United Kingdom and we will do nothing that puts that at risk in any way.”
Choosing to adopt the position reportedly set out in the text could put Theresa May’s minority government at risk.
The DUP currently props up May’s government but has signalled that it is prepared to terminate the confidence and supply arrangement if its Brexit red lines are not respected.
DUP MP Sammy Wilson told the BBC that the party’s representatives in Stormont would veto regulatory alignment, but refused to speculate on dialogue between the DUP and UK government on the matter.
The pound jumped after news of this potentially significant breakthrough in Brexit talks was first reported.
A spokesperson for the prime minister would not be drawn on the claims but said on Monday morning that: “We will protect the economic and territorial integrity of the United Kingdom.”
They also talked down the prospect of a firm deal being made when the prime minister meets with Donald Tusk and Jean Claude Juncker later on Monday, saying only that today’s talks are “important staging-post” adding that “our focus is on making progress at the council in mid-December.”