close

News WrapGet Handpicked Stories from our editors directly to your mailbox

Flexibility to Northern Ireland leaders on regulatory alignment with European Union possible

British Brexit minister Stephen Barclay. Photograph:( Reuters )

Reuters London, United Kingdom Oct 06, 2019, 06.05 PM (IST)

Britain is open to some flexibility on the mechanism that would allow lawmakers in Northern Ireland to decide whether the British province remains in regulatory alignment with the European Union, as set out in London's latest Brexit proposals, Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay said on Sunday.

The 500 km border between Northern Ireland and European Union member Ireland, which will be the United Kingdom's only land frontier with the bloc after it leaves, has become the biggest sticking point of Brexit negotiations.

The problem is how to prevent Northern Ireland becoming a "back door" into the EU's single market and customs union without erecting border controls that could undermine the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, which ended decades of political and sectarian violence in Northern Ireland in which more than 3,600 people were killed.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said he cannot accept the so-called backstop arrangement included in the Withdrawal Agreement negotiated with the EU by his predecessor Theresa May, which British lawmakers rejected three times.

He made what he called a final Brexit offer to the European Union on Wednesday which centres on replacing the backstop with a proposal for an all-island regulatory zone to cover all goods.

The proposal also says the legislative assembly in Northern Ireland, which has been suspended since 2017, would have the right to decide every four years whether it wants to continue to abide by EU rules on traded goods.

The European Union and Ireland, however, said the proposals were unlikely to result in a deal without more concessions.

Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said he did not fully understand how the British proposals might work and that Dublin could not sign up to a treaty that did not safeguard an open Irish-British border.

The government acknowledged for the first time on Friday that Johnson will send a letter to the EU asking for a Brexit delay if no divorce deal has been reached.

Speaking to BBC's Andrew Marr, Latvian Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins said he didn't think there would be "massive resistance" within the EU against the delay because "all minds are interested on finding a deal."

Story highlights

The problem is how to prevent Northern Ireland becoming a "back door" into the EU's single market.