Brexit: UK and EU agree to write border 'backstop' solution into legal text
No agreement has yet been reached on the right operational approach to avoid a hard Irish border, the EU's draft agreement showed.
A "backstop" solution envisaging Northern Ireland effectively remaining within the EU customs union if no other solution is found has been assented to in principle.
All sides are united in their desire to create a frictionless border after Brexit and the issue is expected to dominate talks next week.
The document said: "The negotiators have reached agreement on some elements of the draft protocol.
"They further agree that the full set of issues related to avoiding a hard border covered in the draft reflect those that need to be addressed in any solution.
"There is as yet no agreement on the right operational approach, but the negotiators agree to engage urgently in the process of examination of all relevant matters announced on 14 March and now under way."
Theresa May's DUP allies are adamantly opposed to any deal creating a difference between the north and the rest of the UK.
Details not yet agreed between the EU and Britain included:
- Measures creating an area without internal borders in which the free movement of goods is ensured and North-South cooperation between Northern Ireland and the Republic is protected.
- Prohibiting customs duties on imports and exports between the EU and UK specific to Northern Ireland, including duties of a fiscal nature.
- The banning of restrictions on imports and exports between the EU and Northern Ireland.
- Internal taxation rules.
- The application of EU law surrounding VAT and excise duties, agriculture, fisheries products and environmental protection to Northern Ireland.
"On the EU side, it's now up to Member States to assess the progress made, when they adopt guidelines at the end of the week, which will enable us to start the discussions on future relations with the United Kingdom" @MichelBarnier ahead of #EUCO #Brexit https://t.co/R2GJtRodJy— European Commission (@EU_Commission) March 19, 2018
Laws were agreed in principle surrounding state aid and the wholesale electricity markets; Northern Ireland is part of an island-wide energy market.
The Common Travel Area allowing free movement of UK and Irish nationals between Ireland and the UK was agreed.
The draft agreement said: "With respect to the draft protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland, the negotiators agree that a legally operative version of the 'backstop' solution for the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland...should be agreed as part of the legal text of the Withdrawal Agreement, to apply unless and until another solution is found."
The EU and UK agreed to maintain the necessary conditions for continued North-South cooperation, including in the areas of environment, health, agriculture, transport, education and tourism, as well as energy, telecommunications, broadcasting, inland fisheries, justice and security, higher education and sport.
Good meeting with @MichelBarnier again this morning - #Brexit negotiations are moving forward - progress on Irish issues remains a key priority for both negotiating teams and solidarity with our EU partners remains strong. pic.twitter.com/JgN9xZe828— Simon Coveney (@simoncoveney) March 19, 2018
Britain's Brexit Secretary David Davis said it remained the UK's intention to achieve a partnership that was so close it did not need Northern Ireland-specific measures and pledged to engage in detail on all scenarios set out in December's Joint Report between the two sides.
He said: "We have also reached consensus on the full set of issues which need to be addressed in any solution in order to avoid a hard border, which is why, last week, we set out a work programme to tackle them.
"There are also some elements of the draft protocol, such as the Common Travel Area, on which we agree.
"So while there is as yet no agreement on the right operational approach, we know what we need to do, and we're going to get on with it."
Sinn Fein MEP Martina Anderson said the British government should come up with credible proposals to ensure rights are protected.
She added: "It is clear from today's meeting between David Davis and Michel Barnier that the British government have now accepted the agreements it has already entered into both in December and just weeks ago when the draft withdrawal agreement was published.
"Despite denials from Theresa May there is now confirmation that the British government is accepting the agreements made, including the backstop option which would see the north remaining in the customs union and significant elements of the single market."
She added: "The Taoiseach must now ensure that the rights of people in the north are protected and that the outstanding issues are addressed in a way that realises his pledge that citizens in the north will never again be left behind by an Irish government."