A deal preventing a “hard border” from splitting the island of Ireland has collapsed at the last minute. Ireland’s premier said he was “disappointed” that the UK is no longer in a position to conclude the deal.
Ireland’s Prime Minister Leo Varadkar (pictured) on Monday said he was “disappointed” after the UK pulled out of an agreement on the status of the Irish border at the last minute.
“I am surprised and disappointed that the British government now appears not to be in a position to conclude what was agreed earlier today,” Varadkar told reporters in Dublin.
Earlier Monday, the UK appeared to agree for Northern Ireland to continue applying European single market and customs union rules to avoid a hard border with the Republic of Ireland post-Brexit.
The draft text on Ireland reportedly stated that the “UK will ensure continued regulatory alignment to the rules of the internal market and customs union which, now or in the future, support North-South cooperation and the protection of the Good Friday agreement.”
Although the precise definition of “regulatory alignment” remains unclear, it was believed to refer to the select single market rules that support ongoing co-operation between Northern Ireland and the Republic.
However, Arlene Foster, who heads the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) in Northern Ireland that forms part of the British government, said they would not accept a different status than that of the entire UK, effectively torpedoing hopes of a deal.
“We will not accept any form of regulatory divergence which separates Northern Ireland economically or politically from the rest of the United Kingdom,” said Foster.
Open border only
The Irish government had sought such a commitment. Earlier on Monday, Ireland’s Europe minister, Helen McEntee, told the BBC that Ireland would reject any proposals that didn’t guarantee that the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic remained open.
Read more:The Irish border — what you need to know
Britain is aiming to strike an agreement on the progress of Brexit negotiations so that talks can move on to the next-phase discussion over a post-Brexit trade deal.
Before the deal fell through, the British team reportedly insisted that the phrase “no regulatory divergence” be changed to “regulatory alignment,” as the former would have insinuated that Northern Ireland would have to continue accepting all EU single market rules.
Three outstanding issues
The text on Ireland is part of a paper entitled “The Joint Report from the European Commission and the United Kingdom Negotiators on Progress.”
Alongside the Irish border issue, Britain’s financial settlement and EU citizens’ rights are also under contention.
The EU negotiation team had given Britain until Monday to prove that sufficient progress had been made in the Brexit negotiations to advance talks.
Elmar Brok, a member of the European parliament’s Brexit group, said he believed there was a “very good chance” of a comprehensive Brexit deal. Brok added that he was “astonished” at how far the negotiations had progressed and that differences remained over “just a few words.”
amp, dm, ls/se (Reuters, AFP, AP, dpa)