Brexit bulletin

Sep 24, 2018

The “moment of truth” for Brexit negotiations will be the October European Council meeting according to European Council President Donald Tusk. The statement came following an informal meeting of EU leaders in Salzburg this week where EU leaders rejected the UK’s Chequers proposals much to the dismay of the UK Prime Minister Theresa May.

Agreement on how to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland remains outstanding and EU leaders said that there will be no Withdrawal Agreement without a functioning backstop arrangement for the Irish border. And while the EU recognised that some elements of the proposals put forward by the UK government in its Chequers plans were positive, several elements plans for an economic cooperation with the EU will not work.

What’s the Irish issue again?

The EU wants a guarantee that there will not be a hard border on the island of Ireland and have proposed that a common regulatory area between the EU and Northern Ireland might just solve the issue.  This would mean that Northern Ireland could effectively stay within the EU’s Single Market and Customs Union and the UK has rejected this.  The UK doesn’t want a hard border, but it also does not want Northern Ireland to have a different customs regime to the rest of the UK. 

The UK hasn’t come up with any other workable proposal in the eyes of the EU and hopes a future free trade agreement can be agreed which makes border checks unnecessary. 

But the EU wants a border guarantee now and won’t agree an exit agreement until an agreement is reached on the border which makes a no deal Brexit still a possibility.

In recent weeks, in response to the UK’s rejection, there have been suggestions that the EU was going to redraft part of its border proposals.  For example customs checks on the Irish border could take place on ships or at ports outside of Ireland (rather than on the border itself) with the support of technology.  It’s worth reminding ourselves that technology is only part of the solution – it cannot remove the need for checks.

In response to these measures, the UK has said that it doesn’t want EU officials working at UK ports. So it seems we are back to square one. The EU has warned that the UK’s proposals need to be reworked and the UK has said the EU needs to evolve its position too.  Are we in deadlock?

An embattled UK Prime Minister

In a televised address after the meetings in Salzburg, Theresa May challenged the EU to come up with some counter proposals. “It’s not acceptable to simply reject the other side’s proposals without a detailed explanation and counter proposals,” Mrs May said.   Today, the UK Prime Minister faces her divided Cabinet and is under pressure to abandon the Chequers proposals as some of the Cabinet feel that the plan keeps the UK too closely aligned to the EU.

A second referendum in the making?

Over the weekend, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said he would back a second Brexit referendum if the Labour party members supported it.

Read all of our Brexit updates and Back to Brexit Basics on the dedicated Brexit section of our website.