Northern Ireland will stay in single market and customs unions after Brexit, says EU

Written by Nicholas Mairs and Tom Freeman on 9 February 2018 in News

Case for Scotland staying in single market and customs union would become a "practical necessity" says Nicola Sturgeon

Northern Ireland border - PA

Northern Ireland will have to remain in the customs union and single market after Brexit in order to avoid a hard border, EU negotiators have said.

The condition in the EU draft withdrawal agreement means the province will continue to follow EU law at the end of the 21-month implementation period, where relevant to the all-Ireland economy and the tenets of the Good Friday agreement.

The document, which is set to be published in two weeks and which ministers are expected to sign off on, is likely to spark anger among the Tory government’s allies in the DUP, whose backing they need on Brexit for a working majority.

Cabinet ministers have repeatedly insisted that the whole of the UK would leave under the same conditions, however despite a meeting on the subject yesterday, they have failed to resolve how to maintain an open border with the Republic.

The Guardian reports that UK negotiators were told by their EU counterparts that the document could retain a "sunset clause" that would void the text, if a particularly generous trade deal can be agreed.

Philippe Lambert, the leader of the Greens in the European parliament told the paper "there will be no wriggle room for the UK government" on the issue. 

"We are going to state exactly what we mean by regulatory alignment in the legal text," he said.

"It will be very clear. This might cause some problems in the UK – but we didn’t create this mess."

Pro-EU Best for Britain campaigner and former Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron said the document showed the Prime Ministers "fudging" of the December divorce deal is "already coming back to haunt her."

"The EU has proposed a 'sunset clause' on Northern Ireland’s single market membership, which would render the deal null and void should an unexpectedly generous free trade deal, or a hitherto unimagined technological solution emerge," he said.

"May claimed this was a possibility - the EU knows it isn’t likely.

It’s another example of the vacuum left by May’s divided and dithering government allowing the EU to set the agenda."

Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon Tweeted about the development.

"If NI stays in single market, the case for Scotland also doing so is not just an academic ‘us too’ argument - it becomes a practical necessity. Otherwise we will be at a massive relative disadvantage when it comes to attracting jobs and investment," she said.

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