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Guidelines set out for #Brexit summit without UK

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It was back on 21 March that European Council President Donald Tusk (pictured), during a briefing with Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, called today's (29 April) meeting of the EU-27, without the UK, to adopt the guidelines for the Brexit talks due to begin between the UK and EU, writes James Drew.

"As you all know, I personally wish the UK hadn't chosen to leave the EU, but the majority of British voters decided otherwise. Therefore, we must do everything we can to make the process of divorce the least painful for the EU, " said Tusk.

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He highlighted that the main priority for the negotiations must be to create as much certainty and clarity as possible for all citizens, companies and member states that will be negatively affected by Brexit as well as for the EU's important partners and friends around the world.

The special European Council (Article 50), in an EU-27 format, will adopt the guidelines for the Brexit negotiations. The guidelines will define the framework for negotiations and set out the overall EU positions and principles during negotiations. The draft guidelines proposed by Tusk were presented to the member states on 31 March.

In a letter to leaders of the EU-27, Tusk said agreement on "people, money and Ireland" must come before negotiations on the EU's future relationship with the UK.

The UK government has said it does not want to delay talks on future trade relations.

Tusk's letter - calling for a "phased" approach to Brexit - echoed German Chancellor Angela Merkel's priorities, which she set out on Thursday (27 April).

"Before discussing our future, we must first sort out our past," he said, listing three priorities:

  • On EU citizens living in the UK, he called for "effective, enforceable, non-discriminatory and comprehensive" guarantees
  • The UK must fulfil all its financial obligations agreed as an EU member state
  • A deal must be reached "to avoid a hard border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland"

"We will not discuss our future relations with the UK until we have achieved sufficient progress on the main issues relating to the UK's withdrawal from the EU," he said.

Meanwhile, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said the UK would not have advantages over the 27 EU members once Brexit negotiations were concluded.

"There is no free lunch. Britons must know that," he told Germany's Funke Media Group.

EU officials estimate that the UK faces a bill of €60 billion (£51bn; $65bn) because of EU budget rules. UK politicians have said the government will not pay a sum of that size.

Reports say Irish Prime Minister (Taoiseach) Enda Kenny will also ask his EU partners to back the idea of Northern Ireland automatically joining the EU if the province's people vote to unite with the Republic.

A senior EU diplomat said that the EU-27 wanted "a rapid decision", stating that as far as the guidelines were concerned, there was "no hint of a punitive line" being taken towards the UK, and that as far as Ireland was concerned, every effort was being made to continue "support for peace and reconciliation" and that a "hard border should be avoided at all costs".

On the Irish situation, he added: "We fully support the need to focus on the border in Ireland and to ensure that the Good Friday Agreement is upheld in all its parts. One possible way to achieve this, and to respect the will of the majority of people in the north of Ireland would be to give the North of Ireland special status within the EU. Another way would be through Irish unity. In this regard we also welcome the proposal by the Irish prime minister for a declaration from the Council ensuring that a united Ireland would automatically be a member of the EU.

“We expect Ireland to ask on Saturday for a statement to be added to the minutes of the European Council, which states that in case of a unification of the island in accordance with the Good Friday Agreement, the united Ireland would be a member of the EU.

 “We do not expect a change of the guidelines themselves, but only a statement of the minutes of the meeting.

“However, the EU does of course not take a stance on the possibility of a united Ireland. Should this question arise, it would be for the peoples of Ireland and Northern Ireland to decide in accordance with the Good Friday Agreement.”

Commenting on the guidelines for Brexit negotiations to be adopted by the Council, GUE/NGL President Gabi Zimmer MEP said: "We welcome the willingness of the Council to engage with the European Parliament with regards to the priorities to be laid out for the EU negotiator, Michel Barnier. However, we are missing a clear commitment to fully involve the European Parliament in the negotiation process, especially when decisions to open new chapters are to be made. We think it is in the best interests of citizens across Europe, including in the UK, that there is transparency in the whole negotiation process.

"We fully support the intention to put EU citizens’ right first. We need to swiftly and unconditionally provide legal certainty to nationals of EU member states living in the UK and British people living in other member states. For GUE/NGL, it is of utmost importance that the final agreement does not lead to the lowering of standards including environmental, social, workers’ rights, food safety and consumer standards."

The European Council spokesperson, again speaking on condition of anonymity, was similarly forthright: "Brexit is a lose-lose process, without winners. This is about damage control.

"We must address the immediate consequences of Brexit. The lives of millions of people are set to be negatively affected by Brexit - therefore, our process must be as effective and non-discriminatory as possible. We are striving to avoid a hard border in Ireland, and a 'no-deal' scenario. During discussions, we fully expect the broad support of all EU institutions and the EU-27 - we must act as one throughout the negotiations."

EU Reporter will provide updates in the wake of the special European Council meeting on 29 April, which begins at 12h30 central European time.

Brexit timetable

  • 29 April - EU leaders (excluding the UK) meet in Brussels to adopt Brexit negotiating guidelines
  • 8 June - UK parliamentary election - Brexit talks to start soon after the vote
  • 24 September - German parliamentary election, with Merkel seeking a fourth term
  • 29 March 2019 - Deadline for ending talks on UK exit terms (any extension requires agreement of all member states)
  • May or June 2019 - European Parliament election (without UK)
  • Ratification - Any Brexit deal requires ratification by all EU's national parliaments and European Parliament

Brexit

UK's Johnson urges EU to consider post-Brexit proposals seriously

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Britain's Prime Minister of United Kingdom, Boris Johnson poses with President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen during the Leaders official welcome and family photo at the G7 summit in Carbis Bay, Cornwall, Britain, June 11, 2021. Leon Neal/Pool via REUTERS

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has urged European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen to consider seriously Britain's proposals to change what he called the "unsustainable" way a Brexit deal is governing trade with Northern Ireland, writes Elizabeth Piper.

Since it completed its exit from the EU at the end of last year, Britain's ties with the bloc have reached new lows, with both sides accusing each other of acting in bad faith over an agreement for post-Brexit trade with Northern Ireland.

London accuses Brussels of being too purist, or legalistic, in interpreting what the deal means for some goods moving from Britain to its province of Northern Ireland. The EU says it is adhering to the deal, which Johnson signed just last year.

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Britain proposed on Wednesday to renegotiate parts of the Northern Ireland protocol that govern the movement of goods such as chilled meats, and to dispense with EU oversight of the accord.

The EU has rejected the demand to renegotiate, with von der Leyen repeating the bloc's message on Twitter, saying: "The EU will continue to be creative and flexible within the Protocol framework. But we will not renegotiate."

Johnson spoke to van der Leyen last week.

"The prime minister set out that the way the protocol was currently operating was unsustainable. He said that solutions could not be found through the existing mechanisms of the protocol and that's why we'd set out proposals for significant changes to it," Johnson's spokesman told reporters.

Johnson urged the EU to "look at the proposals seriously and work with the UK on them" saying this would put the UK-EU relationship on a better footing.

Britain drafted the proposals in one paper that it issued on Wednesday to try to force stuttering negotiations forward on making the so-called protocol work better. Some critics say few of the suggestions are new and could largely be dismissed by the EU.

The protocol addresses the biggest conundrum raised by the divorce: how to preserve the delicate peace brought to the province by the U.S.-brokered 1998 Good Friday peace accord - by maintaining an open border - without opening a back door through neighbouring Ireland to the EU’s single market of 450 million people.

It essentially requires checks on goods between the British mainland and Northern Ireland, which remains part of the EU customs area. These have proved burdensome to companies and an anathema to unionists, who are fiercely supportive of the province remaining part of the United Kingdom.

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EU backs Ireland as UK searches for solutions to Northern Ireland Protocol dilemma

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The controversial Northern Ireland Protocol which is part of the EU/UK Withdrawal Agreement, shows no sign of resolving itself any time soon. As Ken Murray reports from Dublin, the European Commission is unwilling to back down while the British continue to search for an opening to get themselves out of an agreed document that they themselves hailed last December.

It’s seven months since the British government boasted of a great deal when Brexit was formally signed and sealed in Brussels with smiles and pre-Christmas cheer all round.

As UK chief negotiator Lord David Frost tweeted on Christmas Eve 2020: “I’m very pleased and proud to have led a great UK team to secure today’s excellent deal with the EU.

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“Both sides worked tirelessly day after day in challenging conditions to get the biggest and broadest deal in the World, in record time. Thank you all who made it happen.”

One might think reading his words that the British government were hoping to live happily ever after once the deal was done. However, all is not going to plan.

Under the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement, the Northern Ireland Protocol, which is an annex to the EU/UK accord, created a new trading arrangement between GB and Northern Ireland which, although being on the island of Ireland, is actually in the United Kingdom.

The objective of the Protocol is that certain items being moved from GB to NI such as eggs, milk and chilled meats amongst others, must undergo port checks in order to arrive on to the island of Ireland from where they can be sold locally or moved on to the Republic, which remains in the European Union.

As working class protestant unionists or British loyalists in Northern Ireland see it, the Protocol or notional trade border in the Irish Sea, amounts to another incremental step towards a united Ireland-which they vehemently oppose-and marks further isolation from Britain where their loyalty is to.

Former Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party Edwin Poots said the Protocol has put “absurd barriers placed on trade with our biggest market [GB]”.

A grace period from 1 January to 30 June was agreed to allow for the measures to come in to effect but such has been the hostility in Northern Ireland towards the Protocol, that period has now been extended until the end of September in order to find ways for acceptable compromise to keep all sides happy!

The Protocol and its implications which, it seems, Britain didn’t think through, has angered members of the unionist community so much in Northern Ireland, protests on the streets every other night since early Summer, have become a common sight.

Such is the sense of betrayal towards London over the Protocol, British loyalists have threatened to take their protests to Dublin in the Irish republic, a move many would see as provoking an excuse for violence.

Loyalist activist Jamie Bryson speaking on The Pat Kenny Show on Newstalk Radio in Dublin recently said: “Save for there being a quite remarkable turnaround in terms of the Northern Ireland protocol in the coming weeks… I would imagine most definitely those protests will be taken south of the border, certainly following 12 July.”

12 July, a date seen in Northern Ireland as marking the peak of the Orange Order marching season, has come and gone. So far, those opposed to the Protocol in Northern Ireland have yet to cross the border that separates northern from southern Ireland.

However, with pressure mounting on the Government in London from British unionists in Northern Ireland and traders who feel their businesses will suffer greatly when the full contents of the Protocol document come in to effect, Lord Frost has been trying desperately to amend and soften the deal he negotiated and praised to the max last December.

The same deal, it should be added, was passed in the House of Commons by 521 votes to 73, a sign perhaps that the British Government didn’t perform its due diligence!

Among the visible consequences of Brexit in Northern Ireland are long delays for truck drivers at ports with some major supermarkets chains complaining of empty shelves.

The feeling in Dublin is that if COVID-19 measures were not in place, the real true consequences of Brexit would likely be more harsh in Northern Ireland than they already are.

With pressure on Lord Frost to sort out this political dilemma as soon as possible, he told the Westminster parliament last week, “we can not go on as we are”.

Publishing what was titled ‘A Command Paper’, it brazenly went on to say, “the involvement of the EU in policing the deal just “engenders mistrust and problems”.

The Paper even suggested the abolition of blanket customs paperwork for traders selling from Great Britain into NI.

Instead, a “trust and verify” system, dubbed an “honesty box”, would apply, whereby traders would register their sales in a light-touch system allowing inspection of their supply chains, a suggestion which, no doubt, sent smugglers to bed with a smile on their face!

The very suggestion of an “honesty box” must have sounded amusing and ironic in Northern Ireland where in 2018, Boris Johnson promised delegates at the DUP annual conference that “there would be no border in the Irish Sea” only for him to subsequently go back on his word!

With EU Commission President Ursula Von Der Leyen confirming last week to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson that there will be no re-negotiation of the Agreement, the UK side looks set to make itself ultra unpopular again with the protestant unionist and Irish nationalist communities in Northern Ireland.

With British protestant unionists in Northern Ireland angry over the Protocol, Irish catholic nationalists are also furious with London after the Secretary of State for NI Brandon Lewis announced proposals to cease all investigations in to murders committed during the Troubles prior to 1998.

If implemented, the families of those that died at the hands of British soldiers and security services would never ever get justice while those that died from actions carried out by UK loyalists and Irish republicans would suffer the same fate.

The Taoiseach Micheál Martin speaking in Dublin said “the British proposals were unacceptable and amounted to betrayal [to the families].”

With US President Joe Biden, a man of Irish heritage, saying last year that he will not sign a trade deal with the UK if London does anything to undermine the 1998 Northern Ireland Peace Agreement, the Boris Johnson administration, it seems, has a dwindling number of friends in Brussels, Berlin, Paris, Dublin and Washington.

Talks to review the terms of the Northern Ireland Protocol look set to resume in the coming weeks.

With the EU signalling it is unwilling to budge and the US administration siding with Dublin, London finds itself in a difficult dilemma which will require something remarkable to escape from.

As one caller to a Dublin radio phone-in programme remarked last week on the issue: “Somebody should tell the British that Brexit has consequences. You get what you vote for.”

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UK demands EU agrees to new Northern Ireland Brexit deal

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View of the border crossing between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland outside Newry, Northern Ireland, Britain, October 1, 2019. REUTERS/Lorraine O'Sullivan

Britain on Wednesday (21 July) demanded a new deal from the European Union to oversee post-Brexit trade involving Northern Ireland but shied away from unilaterally ditching part of the divorce deal despite saying its terms had been breached, write Michael Holden and William James.

The Northern Ireland protocol was agreed by Britain and the European Union as part of a 2020 Brexit deal, finally sealed four years after British voters backed the divorce in a referendum.

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It sought to get round the biggest conundrum of the divorce: how to protect the EU's single market but also avoid land borders between the British province and the Irish Republic, the presence of which politicians on all sides fear could fuel violence largely ended by a 1998 U.S.-brokered peace accord.

The protocol essentially required checks on goods between the British mainland and Northern Ireland, but these have proved burdensome to business and an anathema to "unionists" who are fiercely supportive of the province remaining part of the United Kingdom.

"We cannot go on as we are," Brexit Minister David Frost told parliament, saying there was justification for invoking Article 16 of the protocol which allowed either side to take unilateral action to dispense with its terms if there was an unexpected negative effect arising from the agreement.

"It is clear that the circumstances exist to justify the use of Article 16. Nevertheless ... we have concluded that is not the right moment to do so.

"We see an opportunity to proceed differently, to find a new path to seek to agree with the EU through negotiations, a new balance in our arrangements covering Northern Ireland, to the benefit of all."

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