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Northern Ireland 'must stay' in customs union post-Brexit to prevent hard border, says EU

An internal EU paper has said there must be no divergence of rules on either side of the border.

Image: Jane Barlow via PA Images

AN INTERNAL EU paper has suggested that it is essential for Northern Ireland to remain in the single market and the customs union to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland.

Published by RTÉ‘s Tony Connolly, the working paper says that in order to avoid a hard border there must be no divergence of rules on either side of the Irish border.

That would require Northern Ireland to stay in the single market and the customs union.

The working paper was presented to British negotiators in Brussels yesterday after being circulated to the 27 member states on Wednesday night, according to RTÉ.

The paper suggests that the EU’s guiding principles underlined that an important part of political economic, security, societal and agricultural activity on the island of Ireland currently operates on a cross-border basis, “underpinned by joined EU membership of the EU and Ireland.”

Both the EU and the UK have already committed to protecting the Good Friday Agreement, the paper says.

It says achieving this must be done in a way that “respects the integrity of the internal market and the customs union of which Ireland will remain a full member”.

It goes on to say that it seems “essential” for the UK to commit to ensuring that there is no regulatory divergence from those rules of the internal market and the customs union “which are, or may be in the future, necessary for meaningful north-south cooperation, the all-Ireland economy and the protection of the Good Friday Agreement”.

An entirely new structure would be imposed on the United Kingdom if Northern Ireland were to remain inside the customs union and single market, while the rest of the UK was outside.

DUP tensions

The paper could put more pressure on the UK’s Conservative government given its reliance on Northern Ireland’s DUP party for survival.

The DUP has repeatedly warned that it will not accept any deals that may undermine the union between Britain and Northern Ireland.

The EU has said the UK can only qualify to Phase II of the Brexit negotiations if there is “sufficient progress” on the financial settlement, EU citizens’ rights, and the Irish border, according to RTÉ.

There was no breakthrough at the summit of EU leaders on 14 and 15 October as a result of a deadlock in the negotiations.

However, the working paper has revealed that both the EU and the UK have reached an agreement on the principle on the Common Travel Area.

“At the last round, agreement was reached in the principle on joint principles on the Common Travel Area which aim to recognise an existing bilateral arrangement between the UK and Ireland,” the paper says.

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