Friday

20th Sep 2019

EU mulls three conditions for Brexit no-deal trade talks

  • Two years ago today: the UK's EU ambassador handed a letter to EU council Donald Tusk launching the Brexit procedure (Photo: Council of the European Union)

The EU commission told member states on Thursday (28 March) that conditions should be set for the UK to enter into future trade talks if the divorce deal is not approved by lawmakers in Britain.

The EU chief civil servant and political master behind the commission, Martin Selmayr, laid out the three conditions to EU diplomats, according to a source familiar with the discussions.

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It included Britain paying its share of financial commitments entered into until 2020, guaranteeing the rights of EU and UK citizens living in Britain or in the bloc, and finding a solution that keeps the border open on the island of Ireland.

EU diplomats have not made a decision on these conditions, which are similar to the ones spelled out in the withdrawal agreement itself over 500 pages.

One EU source said the conditions are "reasonable", and paying the bill and preserving citizens' right should be acceptable to both sides.

The difficulty remains with keeping the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland open to preserve the 1998 peace deal, while at the same time policing the new EU external frontier on the island to maintain the integrity of the EU's single market.

For the border to remain open a customs union and regulatory alignment are necessary, but those would be difficult to uphold without being rooted in an international agreement between the EU and the UK.

Brussels and Dublin, however, have been reluctant to spell out to other EU member states how they envisage keeping the border open, as Northern Ireland along with the rest of the UK becomes a third country on 12 April in case of a no deal.

According to a source familiar with discussions among member states, an increasing number of EU countries, including Germany and France, have emphasised that the integrity of the single market is crucial.

Irish prime minister Leo Varadkar will travel to Paris on Tuesday to meet with president Emmanuel Macron, and German chancellor Angela Merkel will travel o Dublin on Thursday for talks.

The EU is gearing up for a potential emergency summit of EU leaders on 10 April to discuss the no-deal strategy and conditions for the UK.

Third time lucky?

All of this comes as the British parliament is preparing to vote for a third time on Friday (29 March) night on the Brexit deal, which has already been heavily defeated twice.

British prime minister Theresa May this time has put forward only the withdrawal agreement, and not the political declaration attached to it spelling out the framework of future relationship, after the Speaker of the House of Commons said a third vote would require a substantially different text.

The deal is unlikely to go through.

The Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party, which backs May's monitory government, said it would reject the deal because they fear the backstop, an insurance policy to keep the border open on the island of Ireland, could trap the UK endlessly in the EU's customs arrangement.

The backstop and the Irish border issue has plagued the Brexit negotiations for the past year, while EU member states are still in the dark about how the bloc would enforce rules to keep the single market intact in case of a no deal.

With DUP opposing the deal, hardline Brexiteer leader Jacob Rees-Mogg, an influential Conservative MP, is also expected to vote against it.

The opposition Labour party said it would vote against the deal, arguing that without the political declaration outlining future UK-EU relations, it is effectively a "blindfold Brexit".

In case the deal is not passed by parliament, London could send a letter to Brussels as early as Friday on next steps, meaning essentially a no deal or a request for an extension.

An extension of around a year was discussed by the EU, but only if the UK takes part in the European elections in May.

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