Leaked letter suggests there will be a customs border in the Irish Sea post Brexit
A leaked letter from British Prime Minister Theresa May to DUP leader Arlene Foster suggests that the UK are pushing for a customs border in the Irish Sea to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland.
The leaked document seen by The Times of London was in response to a letter sent by the DUP to Mrs May on 1 November and suggests the EU is pushing for a customs border in the Irish Sea between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK if Brexit trade talks fail.
This is to ensure no return to a hard border on the island of Ireland.
Mrs May told DUP leader Arlene Foster and deputy leader Nigel Dodds that she would not allow a divide between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK to “come into force”.
That has led the DUP to believe that the clause could be in the Brexit agreement, which could be announced within days.
Mrs Foster said the Prime Minister appeared “wedded to the idea of a border down the Irish Sea” despite Downing Street’s assurances to the contrary.
In the letter sent to Mrs May, the DUP said they are resolutely opposed to any Northern Ireland specific backstop, claiming it would leave them as a “rule taker from Brussels” because if it is subject to EU single market regulations then it will also be subject to the European Court of Justice.
The DUP said it is “totally unacceptable that there could be a Withdrawal Agreement which provided that Northern Ireland at any time in the future could be subject to the rules of the Customs Union or parts of the Single Market whilst the rest of the UK was not.”
The letter, from Mrs Foster and Mr Dodds, said an agreement like that would mean that Northern Ireland “must follow rules and laws determined by other countries with no say in their formulation and with a goods border in the Irish Sea”.
The letter adds that the constructive engagement strategy of the UK government’s negotiators has not always been reciprocated by the EU. On the backstop, it says the EU has ignored what was agreed and “instead proposed what it wished was agreed.”
The DUP, it says, appreciates that the Withdrawal Agreement is legally binding.
“Unlike the previous political declarations, the scope for delay, fudge or obscurantist language has passed. This is now a time for clarity and plain speaking,” the letter states.
“We are resolutely opposed to any Northern Ireland specific backstop which not only leaves Northern Ireland aligned to specific sectoral EU market regulations but is, when operational, time-limited by date.
The DUP letter notes that if Northern Ireland is subjected to EU single market regulations then it will also be subject to the ECJ.
It says that this would leave Northern Ireland as a “rule taker from Brussels” and would create “a democratic deficit” for the manufacturing and agriculture sectors of their economy.
It says the risk of a hard border has been inflated and that Scottish nationalists are “ready to pounce” on distinctive treatment for Northern Ireland.
The EU’s fallback proposal aimed at avoiding a hard border would effectively keep Northern Ireland aligned with Brussels’s customs union and single market.
In the letter seen by The Times, Mrs May said: “I am clear that I could not accept there being any circumstances or conditions in which that ‘backstop to the backstop’, which would break up the UK customs territory, could come in to force.”
The DUP has interpreted the wording of her letter to mean that the measure will be contained in the Brexit divorce deal despite Mrs May’s insistence it will never come into effect.
Mrs Foster said: “The Prime Minister’s letter raises alarm bells for those who value the integrity of our precious union and for those who want a proper Brexit for the whole of the UK.
“It appears the Prime Minister is wedded to the idea of a border down the Irish Sea with Northern Ireland in the EU single market regulatory regime.”
Such an inclusion would create severe difficulties for the Mrs May with the DUP as well as with Brexiteers in her own party.