Theresa May: No UK PM could agree to Brexit withdrawal text on Northern Ireland
Theresa May today said no British leader could ever agree to the draft EU withdrawal agreement which proposes splitting the UK.
The Prime Minister said the draft legal text published by Brussels this morning would “undermine the UK common market and threaten the constitutional integrity of the UK” if implemented.
Meanwhile, chief Brexit negotiator for the EU Michel Barnier insisted he was not trying to “provoke” the UK with the proposals on tackling the vexed Irish border issue.
The draft text - which seeks to place the withdrawal agreement forged in December on a legal footing - outlines three options to ensure the border on the island of Ireland remains open.
It suggests the UK staying in the EU trading institutions; proposing technological solutions to keep trade running freely; or effectively moving the border with the EU to the Irish Sea as a “backstop” option.
The first proposal has been explicitly ruled out by the Prime Minister while the final proposal has sparked outrage in Westminster - particularly among DUP MPs who branded it “offensive”.
Mrs May was repeatedly urged not to compromise the integrity of the Union or put the Good Friday Agreement at risk during a tense session of Prime Minister’s Questions today.
She said: "The draft legal text the Commission have published would, if implemented, undermine the UK common market and threaten the constitutional integrity of the UK by creating a customs and regulatory border down the Irish Sea.”
And dramatically, she added: “No UK Prime Minister could ever agree to it. I will be making it crystal clear to President Juncker and others we will never do so.”
Asked at a press conference in Brussels if he was trying to shock the UK into action with the proposals, Mr Barnier said: “I am not trying to provoke.
“I am not trying to create any shockwaves. I want these negotiations to be a success.”
But he said the backstop option for Northern Ireland was "the only way to guarantee that our joint commitments will be upheld in all circumstances".
Mr Barnier said the next round of Brexit negotiations would begin next week and also revealed he would be meeting with DUP leader Arlene Foster and Sinn Fein president Michelle O’Neill.
But he added: "If we wish to make a success of these negotiations - and I certainly do - we must pick up the pace."
The proposal for a separated Northern Ireland would establish a “common regulatory area” between the country and the Republic with ultimate jurisdiction by the European Court of Justice.
It would leave Northern Ireland subject to EU state aid rules and mean it would automatically be governed by new EU policies covering the common regulatory area.
DUP Westminster leader Nigel Dodds fumed: "The initial reaction is one of amazement that the EU thinks these kind of propositions both on the jurisdiction European Court of Justice and particularly on the Northern Ireland border issue with either us or the British government.
"Quite frankly, they are in some ways quite offensive in terms of the propositions being put forward."
Elsewhere, Mr Barnier rejected the proposal by Mrs May that EU migrants coming to the UK during the Brexit transition would have different rights to those who come before.
And the draft text warned Britain that it could face suspension from beneficial aspects of EU markets if it breaches any part of the agreement.