According to reports in The Guardian Northern Ireland may well stay within the Customs Union and Single Market, even after the end of the 21 Month “transition period” that follows the UK’s departure from the European Union next March, in order to prevent the need for a hard border between the North and the Irish Republic.
If NI stays in single market, the case for Scotland also doing so is not just an academic ‘us too’ argument – it becomes a practical necessity. Otherwise we will be at a massive relative disadvantage when it comes to attracting jobs and investment. https://t.co/Y9YNkA6Ma9
— Nicola Sturgeon (@NicolaSturgeon) February 9, 2018
Sources in Brussels claim that this will be part of the conditions set out in the draft separation agreement between the UK and the EU which is due to be published in the next couple of weeks. The deal, which the UK government is expected to sign off on, will see Northern Ireland remain subject to EU Law wherever it is relevant to the north-south economy, and the requirements of the Good Friday agreement.
The reports follow claims by EU chief negotiator, Michael Barnier, that a hard Irish border would be “inevitable” if the so-called red lines insisted on by Theresa May were to be agreed upon.
Speaking to The Guardian Philippe Lambert MEP, the leader of the Greens in the European parliament, who was briefed in Strasbourg earlier this week said “ There will be no wriggle room for the UK government, We are going to state exactly what we mean by regulatory alignment in the legal text. It will be very clear. This might cause some problems in the UK – but we didn’t create this mess.”
As well as causing ructions in Theresa May’s own government any special deal for Northern Ireland would present problems with her allies in the DUP, of whom she relies on so heavily to maintain a Parliamentary majority. Arlene Foster, the DUP leader, told her party’s conference last year that she wanted a “sensible Brexit” with a seamless Irish border, but said Northern Ireland could not operate under different rules to the rest of the UK.
Of course we also have to note that any special deal for Northern Ireland will attract the fury of the Scottish Government with First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, tweeting earlier “If NI stays in single market, the case for Scotland also doing so is not just an academic ‘us too’ argument – it becomes a practical necessity. Otherwise we will be at a massive relative disadvantage when it comes to attracting jobs and investment”.
Joanna Cherry, SNP MP for Edinburgh South West, also tweeted saying “This is the inevitable consequence of what the UK Govt agreed to in December. It means the same deal, including #CustomsUnion membership could be made to work for Scotland as argued by @theSNP & @scotgov ”