UK seeking to 'have its cake and eat it' says former European Parliament president Pat Cox
THE former president of the European Parliament has said the UK's position paper on Ireland and the border includes sound principles but is "light on detail".
Pat Cox, who served as an MEP for Munster from 1989-2004, said the British government's 'Northern Ireland and Ireland' position paper published on Wednesday suggested the UK "wants its cake and to eat it".
The Whitehall document contains a series of desirable post-Brexit outcomes for the UK, which it hopes will form the basis of forthcoming negotiations with the EU.
It includes a pledge to uphold the Good Friday Agreement, safeguard the Common Travel Area, and ensure the border is "seamless and frictionless" after Britain breaks ties with Brussels in 2019.
Mr Cox told The Irish News that while a proposed transition period for the UK exiting the customs union was "logical", he could not believe it had proved a contentious issue within the Tory cabinet.
"It was a heroic presumption to think everything would be tied up by March 2019," he said.
However, he is sceptical about the implementation of Britain's two proposals for future relations with the EU – a streamlined customs arrangement or a new customs partnership.
"To me it's a bit like the divorcee who wants to play the field but also insists on the original conjugal rights from the marriage," Mr Cox said.
"I think the EU would have considerable difficulty conceding that you can be both be in the customs union and simultaneously maintaining free trade agreements with other states."
The former Munster MEP said the UK's approach appeared contradictory.
"There is a mutual inconsistency between wanting to remain almost in, while at the same time wanting all the privileges of remaining fully out – that is not going to travel very far I'd say," he said.
Mr Cox said it was impossible to agree how the post-Brexit border would operate until the UK and EU finalised customs arrangements.
"The free movement of goods cannot give you an answer about whether there'll be a border and what form it would take until you know the answer to what will be the customs arrangements between the UK and the EU," he said.
"The UK is saying it wants to be open and seamless but waiting to see what the EU wants to do is clever yet superficial, because the UK knows full well what the EU rules are."
The former European Parliament president said the onus was on the UK to find solutions.
"The rupture that's happening is not that Ireland is leaving the EU or that the EU is leaving the UK – the rupture is a British choice to get out – and the consequence of a border appearing in any form is because of the UK's departure," he said.
He said by putting the border question to the fore the British were seeking to accelerate the negotiations around customs arrangements ahead of addressing all the EU's 'people, money and Ireland' priorities.
"I think the British are attempting to speed up the negotiations on customs part but I don't believe Ireland will be a patsy and allow that nor do I think the EU will change the sequence of the negotiations, which has been very clear and approved by 27 states," he said.
Mr Cox said he hoped for the softest possible Brexit.
"There's no doubt that the closer the UK can ultimately be to the EU the better it is for Ireland's interests and the less dislocation we would have," he said.
"But how close that can be depends on how realistic the asks are – and what you can't ask is to have your cake and eat it."