EU sticks to tough Brexit line as governments revise treaty text

Union Flags and European Union flags fly near the Elizabeth Tower during the anti-Brexit 'People's March for Europe,' in London's Parliament Square September 9, 2017. — Reuters pic
Union Flags and European Union flags fly near the Elizabeth Tower during the anti-Brexit 'People's March for Europe,' in London's Parliament Square September 9, 2017. — Reuters pic

BRUSSELS, March 14 — The European Union failed to water down proposals for the Irish border that Theresa May said no prime minister could ever accept in the first revision of the draft Brexit treaty.

Revising the first draft of the document published by the European Commission two weeks ago, diplomats from the 27 remaining EU countries retained the focus on keeping Northern Ireland in the customs union and parts of the single market. The officials signalled some concessions on the UK’s status during a transition period.

The draft, which must get Britain’s consent if there is to be a Brexit deal, will make agreements on the financial settlement, citizens’ rights, the Irish border and a transition period legally binding. Haggling over its contents is likely to dominate negotiations over the next year before the UK leaves the bloc in a year’s time.

Britain, which played no formal role in drawing up the draft, objected to the section on avoiding a hard Irish border which set out in detail proposals to keep Northern Ireland in a the EU’s customs union. The EU said this was a “fallback” option if the UK couldn’t come up with other solutions. Prime Minister May said the option was unacceptable.

While they declined to significantly alter the Irish border wording, diplomats have added an entire section on “good faith.” The new text says the UK must act “in full mutual respect.”

Britain and EU “shall refrain from any measures which could jeopardise the attainment of the objectives of this agreement,” the draft treaty says. “The parties shall, in full mutual respect and good faith, assist each other in carrying out tasks which flow from this agreement.”

Some aspects of the UK’s relationship to the EU during a potential transition period have been changed to Britain’s benefit in the latest revision.

The EU will consult with the British government when drafting new laws that will affect the UK, the country’s officials will be able to attend some meetings on EU foreign policy, Britain will be consulted on fishing quotas and may be invited to opt in to some justice and security matters.

The transition period, which the UK hopes to reach agreement on this month, would run from March 2019 until the end of 2020 and would see Britain remain bound by the EU’s rules and laws without any influence on decision-making. — Bloomberg

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