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UK proposals for a new Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland

The UK Government’s proposal to the EU for a new Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland was presented on 2 October 2019.

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/uk-proposals-for-a-new-protocol-on-irelandnorthern-ireland

The Prime Minister wrote to Donald Tusk on 19 August 2019 setting out the UK’s position on the renegotiation of the Withdrawal Agreement, as well as this government’s desired final destination for a long-term relationship with the EU. Since then, the government has pursued discussions with the European Union on alternatives to the previous Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland, the so-called ‘backstop’.

This letter to the President of the European Commission and accompanying explanatory note, sent on 02 October 2019, set out the government’s proposal for a new Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland.

Dear Jean-Claude,

A Fair and Reasonable Compromise: UK Proposals for a new Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland

There is now very little time in which to negotiate a new Agreement between the UK and the EU under Article 50. We need to get this done before the October European Council.

This Government wants to get a deal, as I am sure we all do. If we cannot reach one, it would represent a failure of statecraft for which we would all be responsible. Our predecessors have tackled harder problems: we can surely solve this one.

Both sides now need to consider whether there is sufficient willingness to compromise and move beyond existing positions to get us to an agreement in time. We are ready to do that, and this letter sets out what I regard as a reasonable compromise: the broad landing zone in which I believe a deal can begin to take shape.

Our proposed compromise removes the so-called “backstop” in the previous Withdrawal Agreement. I have explained the difficulties with this elsewhere, including the fact that it has been rejected three times by the UK Parliament. Equally importantly in this context, the backstop acted as a bridge to a proposed future relationship with the EU in which the UK would be closely integrated with EU custom arrangements and would align with EU law in many areas. That proposed future relationship is not the goal of the current UK Government. The Government intends that the future relationship should be based on a Free Trade Agreement in which the UK takes control of its own regulatory affairs and trade policy. In these circumstances the proposed “backstop” is a bridge to nowhere, and a new way forward must be found.

Accordingly we are now proposing a new Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland. We are delivering the draft legal text of this Protocol to Task Force 50 today. I attach an explanatory note giving further detail of the proposal and I am making this letter and that note public today.

It is based around five elements:

PM’s press statement in Strasbourg: 11 March 2019

Prime Minister’s press statement in Strasbourg: 11 March 2019

Last November, after two years of hard-fought negotiations, I agreed a Brexit deal with the EU that I passionately believe delivers on the decision taken by the British people to leave the European Union.

Over the last four months, I have made the case for that deal in Westminster and across the UK. I stand by what that deal achieves for my country.

It means we regain control of our laws, by ending the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice in the UK.

Regain control of our borders, by ending free movement.

Regain control of our money, by ending vast annual payments to the EU.

The end of the Common Agricultural Policy and the Common Fisheries Policy for British farmers and fishermen.

An independent trade policy.

And the deal sets us on course for a good future relationship with our friends and allies in the EU.

A close economic partnership that is good for business.

Ongoing security co-operation to keep our peoples safe.

The deal honours the referendum result and is good for both the UK and the EU.

But there was a clear concern in Parliament over one issue in particular: the Northern Ireland backstop. Having an insurance policy to guarantee that there will never be a hard border in Northern Ireland is absolutely right – it honours the UK’s solemn commitments in the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement. But if we ever have to use that insurance policy, it cannot become a permanent arrangement and it is not the template for our future relationship.

The deal that MPs voted on in January was not strong enough in making that clear – and legally binding changes were needed to set that right. Today we have agreed them.

First, a joint instrument with comparable legal weight to the Withdrawal Agreement will guarantee that the EU cannot act with the intent of applying the backstop indefinitely. If they do, it can be challenged through arbitration and if they are found to be in breach the UK can suspend the backstop. The joint instrument also gives a legal commitment that whatever replaces the backstop does not need to replicate it. And it entrenches in legally-binding form the commitments made in the exchange of letters with Presidents Tusk and Juncker in January.

Second, the UK and the EU have made a joint statement in relation to the Political Declaration. It sets out a number of commitments to enhance and expedite the process of negotiating and bringing into force the future relationship. And it makes a legal commitment that the UK and the EU will begin work immediately to replace the backstop with alternative arrangements by the end of December 2020. There will be a specific negotiating track on alternative arrangements from the very start of the next phase of negotiations. It will consider facilitations and technologies – both those currently ready and emerging. The UK’s position will be informed by the three domestic groups announced last week – for technical experts, MPs, and business and trade unions.

Third, alongside the joint instrument on the Withdrawal Agreement, the United Kingdom Government will make a Unilateral Declaration that if the backstop comes into use and discussions on our future relationship break down so that there is no prospect of subsequent agreement, it is the position of the United Kingdom that there would be nothing to prevent the UK instigating measures that would ultimately dis-apply the backstop. Unilateral Declarations are commonly used by states alongside the ratification of treaties.

The Attorney General will set out in legal analysis the meaning of the joint instrument and unilateral declaration to Parliament.

Tomorrow the House of Commons will debate the improved deal that these legal changes have created.

I will speak in more detail about them when I open that debate.

MPs were clear that legal changes were needed to the backstop. Today we have secured legal changes. Now is the time to come together, to back this improved Brexit deal, and to deliver on the instruction of the British people.

Statement by the Prime Minister and President Juncker 7 Feb 2019

Joint statement on behalf of the Prime Minister and President Juncker following a meeting in Brussels on 7 February 2019.

Prime Minister May and President Juncker have met today to review the next steps in the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.

The talks were held in a spirit of working together to achieve the UK’s orderly withdrawal from the EU, especially in the context of a shared determination to achieve a strong partnership for the future given the global challenges the EU and the UK face together in upholding open and fair trade, cooperation in the fight against climate change and terrorism and defending the rules-based international system.

The Prime Minister described the context in the UK Parliament, and the motivation behind last week’s vote in the House of Commons seeking a legally binding change to the terms of the backstop. She raised various options for dealing with these concerns in the context of the Withdrawal Agreement in line with her commitments to the Parliament.

President Juncker underlined that the EU27 will not reopen the Withdrawal Agreement, which represents a carefully balanced compromise between the European Union and the UK, in which both sides have made significant concessions to arrive at a deal. President Juncker however expressed his openness to add wording to the Political Declaration agreed by the EU27 and the UK in order to be more ambitious in terms of content and speed when it comes to the future relationship between the European Union and the UK. President Juncker drew attention to the fact that any solution would have to be agreed by the European Parliament and the EU27.

The discussion was robust but constructive. Despite the challenges, the two leaders agreed that their teams should hold talks as to whether a way through can be found that would gain the broadest possible support in the UK Parliament and respect the guidelines agreed by the European Council. The Prime Minister and the President will meet again before the end of February to take stock of these discussions.

PM speech in Belfast: 5 February 2019

Here is the speech Prime Minister Theresa May gave in Belfast on 5 February 2019.

I’m pleased to be back in Belfast today, with under 8 weeks to go until the UK leaves the EU I recognise that this is a crucial time for Northern Ireland. And ensuring that the unique needs of this part of the UK are met has been one of my chief priorities ever since I became Prime Minister.

Any border that weaves its way through farms and villages, bisects hundreds of roads and lanes, and which is crossed and re-crossed by thousands of people every day would pose a logistical challenge in the context of Brexit. But when you add to those geographical factors Northern Ireland’s complex history, the different traditions and identities that make up its community, and the long path to peace that the people of Northern Ireland have walked over the last forty years, the challenge is even greater.

Over the last two and half years, we have come a long way towards a solution that works for Northern Ireland and Ireland. We have agreed mutual protections for citizens’ rights, the maintenance of our common travel area, and set a framework for our future relationship that ensures tariff and quota-free trade and protects our close co-operation on security and law enforcement. But the UK Parliament rejected the Withdrawal Agreement because of their concerns about the backstop, the legal protocol to prevent no hard border in the event our future relationship is not in place at the end of the implementation period.

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