Irish Taoiseach says there can be no ‘backsliding’ on Irish border Brexit agreement
Addressing the European Parliament yesterday, Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar warned there can be “no backsliding” on the Irish border agreement concluded between the UK and EU in the first phase of the Brexit negotiations. Varadkar stressed that the agreement means the UK “has guaranteed that, whatever its future relationship with the European Union, a hard border on the island of Ireland will be avoided.” He added, “As the negotiations move forward, we will continue to rely on your [European Parliament] support and solidarity as we work to ensure that what has been promised in theory is delivered in practice.” On the future UK-EU relationship, Varadkar said he hoped it would be “as close and deep as possible and consistent with the need for the Union to protect our internal market and the Customs Union,” but warned that a country cannot have a relationship with the EU that “involves taking all the benefits and none of the responsibilities and obligations.”
Meanwhile, also addressing the European Parliament, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker suggested that EU funding for cross border peace projects on the island of Ireland would continue post-Brexit, saying “I see no more important use of our new budget than guaranteeing and financing the peace process in Ireland.” On Britain’s decision to leave the EU he said, “I still feel the exit of Britain is a catastrophe…A defeat we all have to take responsibility for. But the reasons for the British exit lie deeper. As Prime Minister [Theresa] May has said, the British never felt at ease in the EU and for 40 years they haven’t been given the chance to feel more at ease. That is why the blame is on many.” Juncker echoed earlier comments saying, “If the British people, the British parliament, the British government, wish for another way than Brexit, we would be prepared to discuss it. We are not throwing out the British, we want them to stay. And if they want to, they should be able to.” He concluded, “Be it as it may, once the British have left under Article 50 there is still Article 49 which allows a return to membership and I would like that. I would like us now to treat each other with respect and not abandon each other.”
Separately, Irish Brexit negotiator Rory Montgomery yesterday warned that the Irish border issue “hasn’t gone away,” adding that giving legal effect to the pledges made last month remained a challenge to EU and UK.
At the UK-France Summit today, Prime Minister Theresa May and French President Emmanuel Macron are expected to agree to deepen bilateral cooperation on defence, security and counter terrorism. Ahead of the meeting, Theresa May said, “Today’s summit will underline that we remain committed to defending our people and upholding our values as liberal democracies in the face of any threat, whether at home or abroad. And while this summit takes place as the UK prepares to leave the EU, this does not mean that the UK is leaving Europe…A strong relationship between our two countries is in the UK, France and Europe’s interests, both now and into the future.” The UK will also commit to participate in a new European Intervention Initiative, proposed by Macron as part of his Sorbonne speech last year on the Future of Europe.
Elsewhere, the UK will also commit an additional £45 million to improving border security at Calais, and The Times reports that Macron will call on additional financial support for the UK today in order to boost development in the Calais region.
Macron and May are not expected formally to discuss Brexit, but an aide to the French President said yesterday, “If tomorrow, or the day after, the United Kingdom decided to change its mind, it’s clear that we would look at this with kindness…But it’s not up to us if the United Kingdom wants to change its mind.”
Separately, Open Europe’s Aarti Shankar appeared on CNBC today to discuss the future of UK-France defence cooperation.
Christophe Bondy, a top lawyer who was involved in the CETA negotiations between Canada and the EU, has warned that any UK/EU trade deal is likely to be very similar to CETA, as opposed to a bespoke ‘Canada plus plus plus’ deal. Giving evidence to the House of Commons Exiting the European Union Committee yesterday, he said, “I’ve heard many people say well it’s going to be easy [to secure a bespoke deal] because we’re harmonised… That’s day 1. What about day 2, day 10 — that’s where the real issue is.” Referring to earlier comments made by Michel Barnier, he said that an arrangement based on the CETA template was a “statement of fact” once the UK Government’s red lines are taken into account, but added that CETA does not “achieve the sort of deep regulatory participation, harmonisation that the UK has experienced in the EU over the last 45 years”. Bondy pointed out that the EU’s approach to third country deals reflected a choice between a free trade agreement “where you have borders, and you have separate regulatory space”, and a “rule taker” model (e.g. Norway). On the Irish border question, he further warned that a “CETA style deal is not compatible with what the phase 1 progress report says about Northern Ireland.”
The House of Commons yesterday voted by 324 to 295 to approve the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill at third reading, with no further amendments. The Bill aims to transpose the body of EU law onto the UK statute book. Brexit Secretary David Davis said after the vote, “This is a critical piece of legislation that aims to maximise certainty for individuals and businesses after our exit.” The Bill will now pass to the House of Lords for scrutiny.
During yesterday’s debate ahead of the vote, Conservative MP Justine Greening, who recently resigned from the cabinet, said, “Looking ahead, if Brexit doesn’t work for young people in our country, in the end it will not be sustainable. When they take their place here they will seek to improve or undo what we’ve done and make it work for them. So we do absolutely have a duty in this House to look ahead and ensure that whatever we get is sustainable and works for them.” Asked to about Greening’s comment, Prime Minister Theresa May’s spokesperson said, “The Prime Minister is clear that she is determined to deliver a Brexit which works for all sections of society. Of course that would include young people.”
The EU27 ambassadors and the European Commission have started sketching out the EU position on post-Brexit aviation arrangements, Bloomberg reports. The Commission, according to information published on its website yesterday, illustrated that no WTO fall-back option exists in aviation, which makes reaching an agreement in this sector particularly urgent. UK airlines currently enjoy all nine air “freedoms” accorded to members of the EU. The Commission is reportedly arguing that the UK’s negotiating red lines, which have ruled out submitting to the European Court of Justice jurisdiction, would imply the loss of some of these freedoms, including cabotage rights [the right to operate domestic flights in other EU countries], and leave the UK with an agreement similar to the one the EU has in place with the US and Canada. The EU is yet to agree on a common negotiating position on this issue.
In an interview with German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ), Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said his government would push for “renewal and change” in the EU, adding, “We need a European Union that focuses more on the big issues and withdraws when it comes to small issues on which nations or regions can better decide for themselves.” He stressed, “The EU has lacked focus in recent years… We took on too many issues at the same time and did not manage to come up with a common answer to the migration question.” Kurz stressed that it was time to put the “focus on proper protection of the EU’s external borders, and not just the permanent discussion about the distribution of refugees across the EU according to quotas.” He singled out as areas for “deeper integration…Security, foreign policy and defence as well as economic and monetary policy.” This comes as Kurz visited Berlin to meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel yesterday.
Separately, Prime Minister Theresa May extended an invitation to Kurz yesterday to “visit the UK in the near future.”
The post Irish Taoiseach says there can be no ‘backsliding’ on Irish border Brexit agreement appeared first on Open Europe.