United Kingdom Moves Closer than Ever to EU Customs Deal
By Mia DiPaola
British Prime Minister, Theresa May, and Irish Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, have been in increased contact in the lead up to the October 18 European Union Council summit where more Brexit talks will take place.
CNBC reports that the pair has been discussing the border between Northern Ireland, currently part of the United Kingdom, and the Republic of Ireland. Most importantly, the discussion focuses on what would happen in the worst-case scenario: a “No Deal” Brexit. The recent proposal of a temporary backstop including the entirety of the UK may be the best solution.
The EU has assured Varadkar in the past that a no Brexit deal will be passed without including an agreement on the Irish border, The Guardian reports. The UK and Ireland are looking to create a “backstop,” preventing a hard border between the two Irelands, but discussions over the exact terms of the backstop are still underway.
According to the Financial Times, past discussions have focused on Northern Ireland remaining in the EU customs union until a UK-EU trade deal could be finalized. However, May is now turning her attention to including the whole of the UK in the backstop. By doing this, May hopes to avoid a situation where Northern Ireland is separated into a different EU customs territory than the rest of the country, making intranational trade between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK more difficult and more expensive. If May cannot reach a trade deal with the EU before March 29, 2019, Ireland will be left in a hard spot. The Financial Times claims that if Britain exits the EU without a deal, Ireland’s economy will go into shock.
Currently, there are no border checks between Northern Ireland and the rest of the island and Varadkar would like to keep it that way.
Fortunately for both Prime Ministers, according to the Financial Times, Varadkar has expressed support for his British counterpart’s plan. Ireland does €65 billion (roughly 75 billion U.S. dollars ) worth of trade annually with the UK and a hard border between them would harm the Irish economy. If Varadkar can successfully reach a Brexit deal, he is likely to win a snap election if he calls for one, the Financial Times reports. The Taoiseach is a member of the minority party in the Irish government and unless he wins a snap election before December, he will be out of power.
The Irish Times reports that possible resistance from Northern Ireland has been resolved by including the whole of the UK in the customs union. Arlene Foster, head of Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party, has expressed her displeasure over a possible regulatory check point in the Irish Sea. If the UK stays in the custom union, there will be no regulatory check points between the two states.
Officials on both sides are optimistic so far. According to Financial Times, a Dublin official said of the backdrop negotiations that “it doesn’t look like it’s going to fall apart. There’s been a lot of pushing and shoving and our European partners have been rock solid.”