JOINT STATEMENT ON PROGRESS OF BREXIT NEGOTIATIONS PUBLISHED BY THE NEGOTIATORS OF THE EUROPEAN UNION AND THE UNITED KINGDOM GOVERNMENT
A joint statement from the negotiators of the EU and the UK Government on the progress of the Brexit negotiations was published on 19th June 2018. It records the progress made since the last publication on 19th March 2018 of the draft Withdrawal Agreement.
The joint statement is introduced with the following remarks:
“This joint statement is put forward with a view to the meeting of the European Council (Article 50) of 29 June 2018. Under the caveat that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed, the progress recorded in this joint statement shall be reflected in the Withdrawal Agreement in full.”
It cannot be forgotten that the single biggest sticking point in all of the negotiations so far has concerned the Ireland/Northern Ireland border. On 8th December 2017 the UK Government finally accepted a backstop agreement proposed by the EU to allow the Brexit negotiations to move onto the next stage. At least that was the principle.
The backstop gave the EU a guarantee that full alignment of regulations and the rules of the EU would be maintained on the island of Ireland but it also gave, in fact invited, the UK to come up with an alternative solution provided it was compatible to what both sides agreed was essential, no hard border and fostering North-South cooperation in line with the Good Friday Agreement.
It is worth revisiting the text of the relevant paragraph from the joint report from the negotiators of the EU and the UK Government on the progress during phase 1 of the Brexit negotiations, published on 8th December 2017.
- The United Kingdom remains committed to protecting North-South cooperation and to its guarantee of avoiding a hard border. Any future arrangements must be compatible with these overarching requirements. The United Kingdom’s intention is to achieve these objectives through the overall EU-UK relationship. Should this not be possible, the United Kingdom will propose specific solutions to address the unique circumstances of the island of Ireland. In the absence of agreed solutions, the United Kingdom will maintain full alignment with those rules of the Internal Market and the Customs Union which, now or in the future, support North-South cooperation, the all island economy and the protection of the 1998 Agreement.
Since then there has been much internal discussion/debate/argument/fighting on the UK side amongst politicians leaving the UK negotiators without any clear mandate or direction on this matter.
The Draft Withdrawal Agreement was short and pithy in its legal interpretation of paragraph 49. Covered in Chapter III, Article 3 of the Protocol on Ireland/ Northern Ireland it details the EU backstop simply and clearly:
Establishment of a common regulatory area
A common regulatory area comprising the Union and the United Kingdom in respect of Northern Ireland is hereby established. The common regulatory area shall constitute an area without internal borders in which the free movement of goods is ensured and North-South cooperation protected in accordance with this Chapter.
Therein lay the problem from the UK Government point of view. If an alternative could not be found then there would be a post Brexit divide not only between the EU and the UK but a subdivision between Britain and Northern Ireland.
Much twisting, turning, wrestling and wrangling have subsequently been taking place to fit the square Irish conundrum into the round Brexit hole. Whilst all of this was ongoing Brexit negotiations were not really moving forward in any noticeable way.
Unfortunately the talks seem not only to have stalled but have been brought back to this one question, ostensibly resolved on 8th December last year.
The EU 27 seem to be a little disturbed by this retardation and have been requesting something in writing prior to the next Summit on 28th/ 29th June 2018.
On 7th June the Government of the UK published a Technical Note on a proposed Temporary Customs Arrangement for the whole of the UK. This was its best effort at trying to maintain an open border on the island of Ireland whilst not differentiating Northern Ireland from the rest of Britain.
This is the official UK position and the EU were grateful to finally receive some had copy to chew over.
Unfortunately the proposals did not receive the rapturous reception that some may have hoped for .
The EU welcomed it as a paper for future discussions but the very next day produced a written response which included a series of issues and questions raised to the three questions it posited in its introduction.
- Is it a workable solution to avoid a hard border?
- Does it respect the integrity of the Single Market and the Customs Union?
- Is it an all weather backstop?
The EU analysed the document not specifically with reference to the island of Ireland border but with that as its main focus.
Whilst the document makes clear that the EU is willing to discuss the issues raised in the Technical Note, its final Assessment Table does not make a favourable comparison to the EU’s own backstop proposal. It concluded :
- It leaves key questions unanswered
- It does not cover regulatory controls , leading to a hard border.
- It is time limited only and UK wide.
Does the joint statement on progress offer any illumination on the island of Ireland in preparation for the forthcoming EU summit?
Not really. How can it given the dearth of actual progress but it does talk in optimistic terms.
It reiterates both parties commitment to the Good Friday Agreement in all its parts, which includes no hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland.
It comments that both sides recognise that any acceptable backstop must provide for customs and regulatory alignment in line with paragraph 49 of the December Joint Report, quoted above.
It recognised the publication of the UK’s Technical Note.
It promises the publication of a North/ South mapping exercise on cross border cooperation in the near future.
It say both parties are willing to accelerate the work on resolving the outstanding issues whist accepting the Draft Protocol reflects the issues and the need for legally operative agreed text in the Withdrawal Agreement.
We await the outcome of the Brexit discussions during upcoming European Council Summit on 29th June with interest. (Agenda highlights here http://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/meetings/european-council/2018/06/28-29/ )