Recent disagreement on the Irish border question proves it is not guaranteedby Aarti Shankar / December 5, 2017 / Leave a comment
On 14th– 15th December, EU27 leaders will formally declare whether or not the UK and European Union have made “sufficient progress” on the three key withdrawal issues—the financial settlement, citizens’ rights, and Northern Ireland. This is set to be a pivotal moment in negotiations. All things going well, talks on the future relationship, including trade and transition, could begin in the New Year. But as we saw from yesterday’s intense discussions in Brussels, most of the heavy lifting will need to be done in advance of the summit, with the EU calling for a joint agreement to be finalised this week.
In recent weeks, we have seen significant movement from the UK in order to ensure trade talks are green-lighted this month. In particular, the UK recently increased its financial settlement offer from the £18bn commitment presented in July by prime minister Theresa May. While no figures have been made public, the updated offer is estimated at around £40-50bn and would relate to the UK’s share of the multiannual budget until 2020, outstanding budgetary commitments undertaken during membership (known as reste à liquider); contingent liabilities; and pension payments. The new offer was approved by the British cabinet, on the condition that the EU agrees to progress negotiations in return.
This week also saw some progress on the issue of Northern Ireland, although a political breakthrough on this point has not yet been secured. Reports yesterday suggested that “In the absence of agreed solutions, the UK will ensure that there continues to be no regulatory divergence from those rules of the internal market and the customs union which, now or in the future, support North South cooperation and the protection of the Good Friday Agreement.” There were also suggestions that “no divergence” may have been amended to “continued regulatory alignment” in a subsequent draft of the agreement. This would theoretically provide the means for regulatory equivalence between Ireland and Northern Ireland in areas that relate specifically to the border and the scope of the Good Friday Agreement. However, agreement on this deal stalled yesterday, amid concerns from the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party (DUP)—the government’s confidence and supply partners—that it could lead to economic or political divergence between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.