Can Northern Ireland Be Kept in the EU?

Author (Person)
Series Title
Series Details 29.11.17
Publication Date 29/11/2017
Content Type

Background information

The United Kingdom government had issued on the 16 August 2017 the second of a series of papers putting forward its negotiating position on the UK’s future partnership with the European Union (EU). It was published in the context of the negotiations being undertaken with the EU for the UK to leave the union following the Brexit referendum vote of June 2016.

The position paper on Northern Ireland and Ireland outlined the UK’s position on addressing the unique circumstances of Northern Ireland and the land border with Ireland.

The position paper stated that the Government would strive to protect the Common Travel Area (CTA) and associated rights for UK and Irish citizens, and put upholding the Belfast (‘Good Friday’) Agreement at the heart of its Exit negotiations.

The paper also put forward proposals on avoiding a hard border on the movement of goods — making clear the UK’s position that there should be no physical infrastructure at the border — and planned to preserve the wide range of institutional cooperation between Northern Ireland, Ireland and Great Britain including for the energy market.

The European Commission set out on the 7 September 2017 its principles for the political dialogue on Ireland and Northern Ireland in the Brexit negotiations.

The Paper stated that the Good Friday Agreement should continue to be protected and strengthened in all its parts after the United Kingdom's withdrawal from the European Union. The continuation of the Common Travel Area, which facilitated the interaction of people in Ireland and the UK, should also be recognised.

Key issues included ensuring that:

+ the interlocking political institutions on the islands of Great Britain and Ireland, established by the Good Friday Agreement, continue to operate;
+ cooperation (in particular, North-South cooperation between Ireland and Northern Ireland) was protected across all the relevant sectors;
+ that full account be taken of the birth right of the people of Northern Ireland to identify themselves as British or Irish, or both.

Given Ireland's unique situation in the Brexit negotiations, a unique solution was required.

In the first phase of the Brexit negotiations up to October 2017, the EU wished to reach a common understanding with the UK on the implications of its withdrawal for the Good Friday Agreement and the Common Travel Area. Once there was sufficient progress on the principles set out in the paper, discussions might move to the second phase of negotiations, which aimed to find flexible and imaginative solutions to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland. These solutions must respect the proper functioning of the internal market and the Customs Union, as well the integrity and effectiveness of the EU's legal order.

As it was the UK's decision to leave the EU, it was the UK's responsibility to propose solutions in this regard.

As a follow on to the European Council held in Brussels on the 19 October 2017, the heads of state and government of the Member States of the European Union met in EU27 formation (EU Member States minus the United Kingdom) on the 20 October 2017. They adopted conclusions on the state of the Brexit negotiations.

To the disappointment of the United Kingdom government, the EU27 deemed that insufficient progress had been made on the EU's three priority aims (citizens’ rights, financial settlement and Northern Ireland) to allow for the second sequence of negotiations, including trade issues, to begin .

The issue would be examined again in December 2017 at the next European Council summit. However, internal preparatory discussions as to second sequence issues would begin between the EU27 and the EU Institutions.

It was announced on the 31 October 2017 in a jointly agreed statement by Michel Barnier, the European Commission's Chief Negotiator and David Davis, Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union that a further shortened sequence of Article 50 negotiations would be held on the 9 and 10 November 2017.

Little clear progress was reported by either side at the end of the negotiations. David Davis said 'this week has enabled us to consolidate the progress of earlier negotiating rounds and to draw out those areas where further political and technical discussion is required ... This is now about moving into the political discussions that will enable both of us to move forward together'.

Michel Barnier said 'Do not expect from us today, at this stage, announcements or decisions. ... The discussions over the past days – in between the two European Councils – are a moment of deepening, clarification and technical work.

He also indicated that the UK had two weeks left to make concessions if the Brexit negotiations were to advance to the next stage at the 14-15 December 2017 European Council meeting. The concessions were seen to concern, in particular, the issues of the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, and the financial settlement.

A key meeting between Theresa May and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker on the 4 December 2017 took place at which it was hoped a provisional agreement on contentious issues could be made prior to the European Council summit. However, news reports of the meeting suggested that while such an agreement was made between the UK and the EU, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) in Northern Ireland refused to accept the part of the agreement concerning Northern Ireland. This was significant because of the June 2017 Confidence and Supply Agreement between the Conservative Party and the DUP by which the latter would support the Conservative minority government in the UK on votes on the Queen’s Speech, the Budget, and legislation relating to Brexit and national security.

Arlene Foster, Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party and First Minister of Northern Ireland said on the 4 December 2017 that 'We have been very clear. Northern Ireland must leave the EU on the same terms as the rest of the United Kingdom. We will not accept any form of regulatory divergence which separates Northern Ireland economically or politically from the rest of the United Kingdom. The economic and constitutional integrity of the United Kingdom will not be compromised in any way'.

Irish prime minister Leo Varadkar said on the 4 December 2017 that he was 'surprised and disappointed' with the lack of a deal on Brexit divorce issues.A selection of experts answer a new question from Judy Dempsey each week on a European topic in the news.

In this feature the question was: Can Northern Ireland Be Kept in the EU?

Also see the many additional sources below for further information on the question of the issue of the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland in the context of Brexit at the end of November 2017 and leading up to the European Council in December 2017.

Source Link
Related Links
ESO: In Focus: Brexit - The United Kingdom and the European Union
UK: Parliament: Parliamentary Business: Committees: Northern Ireland Committee: Inquiries: The land border between Northern Ireland and Ireland
BBC News, 01.12.17: Irish border: Brexit committee says solution doubtful
Politico, 29.11-01.12.17: Dublin’s 5 Brexit demands show path to sufficient progress
Politico, 25-30.11.17: DUP reject ‘special’ deal for Northern Ireland after Brexit
The Guardian, 30.11.17: DUP MPs warn Brexit talks could endanger party's deal with Tories
BBC News, 30.11.17: Sammy Wilson warns Brexit talks may jeopardise DUP-Tory deal
Democratic Unionist Party: News, 30.11.17: Foster - 'we will not countenance new border in the Irish Sea'
IIEA: Brexit Brief, No.31, 30.11.17
Blog: The UK in a Changing Europe, 28.11.17: Opinion poll results: is there support for a border in the Irish Sea?
Blog: The UK in a Changing Europe, 30.11.17: Brexit and immigration control in Northern Ireland
The UK in a Changing Europe: Explainers: Factsheet: Northern Ireland, 19.09.17
Spiegel Online International, 30.11.17: Potential Catastrophe. How the Irish Border Became Brexit's Biggest Hurdle
The Guardian, 01.12.17: Brexit deal on border doable, says Ireland’s deputy prime minister
BBC News, 02.12.17: Irish PM 'understands unionist concerns over Brexit'
Politico, 01-02.12.17: Donald Tusk: EU will back Ireland’s Brexit progress decision
Politico, 04.12.17: Northern Ireland’s DUP derails Theresa May’s trip to Brussels
Democratic Unionist Party: News, 04.12.17: Foster – 'we will not accept any form of regulatory divergence'
Conservative Home, 04.12.17: The UK, Ireland and the border. 'No regulatory divergence”. 'Continued regulatory alignment'. Spot the difference.
BBC News, 05.12.17: Brexit: Theresa May under pressure to get DUP on side
EurActiv, 04.12.17: Ireland ‘disappointed’ following Theresa May’s Brussels talks
EUObserver, 04.12.17: Irish PM 'surprised and disappointed' by Brexit setback
Blog: UK in a Changing Europe, 16.02.18: No deal at Stormont. Is Brexit to blame?
The Guardian, 27.11.17: [Opinion]: The Irish question may yet save Britain from Brexit
ESO: Background information: Brexit Negotiations: The Irish border question
The Guardian, 27.11.17: Brexit: Irish border cannot be settled until trade deal agreed, says Fox

Subject Categories
Countries / Regions , ,