MEPs stress importance of Northern Ireland issue

Written by Martin Banks on 1 August 2018 in News

MEPs have insisted that the UK’s Brexit withdrawal agreement must include a viable backstop for the Northern Ireland/Ireland border.

Photo credit: Press Association

The demand comes following the latest round of Brexit talks between Michel Barnier and Dominic Raab last week, the last session before the summer recess.

Parliament’s Brexit steering group has been briefed on this and the ongoing negotiations that have taken place over the last two weeks with the UK government.  

The group, chaired by ALDE group leader Guy Verhofstadt, says it also took note of a statement by Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, at the conclusion of last Friday’s General Affairs Council as well as recent Brexit statements made by members of the UK government.


The other members of Parliament’s Brexit group are Elmar Brok, Roberto Gualtieri, Gabi Zimmer, Danuta Hübner, and Philippe Lamberts.

Reacting to the latest round of talks, a statement issued by the group said, “The BSG reiterates its position that the successful finalisation of a Withdrawal Agreement (WA), providing for the UK’s orderly withdrawal from the EU, is an essential precondition for negotiating a future deep and special partnership between the EU and the UK, a negotiation which can only take place once the UK is no longer a member state.” 

It went on, “We recall also that the transitional arrangements can enter into force only as a part of the withdrawal agreement.”

The group focus in particular on the thorny issue of the Irish border. 

On this, the group said, “The BSG reiterates that in relation to the withdrawal agreement it will accept no backsliding from past commitments, notably those entered into in the joint report of 8 December.

“To conclude the withdrawal agreement it is essential, in particular, that it includes a “backstop” for the Northern Ireland/Ireland border.”

It said that as recognised by UK Prime Minister Theresa May in her letter to European Council President Donald Tusk, the “backstop” must avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland, protect the Good Friday Agreement and safeguard the integrity of the single market, customs union and common commercial policy. 

“In this the backstop remains specific to the unique circumstances of the island of Ireland and, in conformity with the terms of Article 50 TEU, cannot establish the terms of the future relationship between the European Union and the UK.

“It is incumbent on the UK that it no longer postpone coming forward with its own, workable and legally operative proposal for a backstop.”

The BSG stressed that without a “credible, genuine and operational” backstop it will be impossible for the European Parliament to give its consent to any Brexit deal.

The BSG restated its “longstanding support for the closest possible trade, economic and security partnership.”

This should come, it said, in the form of an association agreement, “compatible with the principles on the future relationship as set out in European Parliament resolutions.”

These are the “non-divisibility of the four freedoms, the integrity of the single market, the autonomy of the EU legal order and decision making, the safeguarding of financial stability and the need to respect a proper balance of rights and obligations.”

The Brexit unit, added the statement, will keep the negotiation process under “continuous review” and reassess the situation prior to the European Parliament’s first plenary session after the holidays in September.

Parliament as a whole will have the final say on the outcome of negotiations when it votes to approve or reject the withdrawal deal, to be finalised in the autumn.


About the author

Martin Banks is a senior reporter for the Parliament Magazine


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