Unique solution

In a day in which Brussels released a flurry of position papers, the EU Task Force’s distinctive Ireland paper simultaneously torpedoed its British counterpart and reiterated an assertion that the responsibility for developing a workable solution to the challenge posed by the Irish border rests with the British.

Recognising the “unique geographic situation” and the fact that “the physical border itself was a symbol of division and conflict”, the paper goes on the crucially outline: “These challenges will require a unique solution which cannot serve to preconfigure solutions in the context of Brexit”.

Consolidating this position and reflecting on the substantial progress yet to be made, Barnier noted: “What I see in the UK’s paper on Ireland and Northern Ireland worries me. The UK wants the EU to suspend the application of its laws, its customs union and its single market at what will be a new external border for the EU, and the UK wants to use Ireland as a kind of test case for the future of EU-UK customs relations. This will not happen.”

At the same time, EU policy is unambiguous in that “the present paper does not put forward solutions for the Irish border. The onus to propose solutions which overcome the challenges created on the island of Ireland… remains on the United Kingdom.”

From an EU perspective, the Irish solution will be a bespoke, standalone arrangement which respects the integrity of the single market, the customs union and EU law and Ireland’s position therein. However, heretofore the UK has been loath to concede ground on ‘special’ treatment for Northern Ireland.

The Irish Government welcomed the document and observed that it “clearly reflects the continuing close engagement between Ireland and the EU Task Force”. Barnier confirmed this, noting: “Today’s paper… is a concise and comprehensive text, which has been drafted in close cooperation with the Irish Government”.

The EU position paper also contends:

  • Irish citizens resident in the North should retain their rights as EU citizens;
  • both the EU and the UK should sustain peace funding programmes; and
  • the common travel area, as a fundamental component of peace, should continue.
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