Government denies 'provoking’ UK over calls for special status Brexit deal on North

Michele Barnier

The Government has denied trying to provoke Britain with a special status deal for the North amid accusations the EU is trying to use the border to stop Brexit.

EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier’s draft withdrawal text for the UK has triggered outrage in the Tory-led government in London and also among unionists in the North. His hardline Brexit stance is that the fallback position after Brexit will keep the North in the EU customs union with its trade rules, unless London comes up with a unique solution.

Brexiteers claim this will erode Britain’s constitutional rights, putting a border down the Irish Sea. But Mr Barnier insisted: “I am not trying to create any shock waves. I want these negotiations to be a success.”

The 120-page draft text says the North would be considered part of the customs territory of the EU, a backstop option agreed by Dublin, Brussels and London in December. There would be a common regulatory area North and South governing customs, energy and agriculture, with EU-UK checks entering the area.

The Government says it is satisfied with the draft text, but Tánaiste Simon Coveney denied attempts were being made to “provoke” Britain or Prime Minister Theresa May. In the Dáil, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said the text in “black and white” set out how to avoid a hard border.

All eyes will now turn to Ms May and what her response will be in a special speech tomorrow. Addressing unionist and Tory rejections yesterday, she said “no UK prime minister could ever agree to it” as it “threatens the constitutional integrity” of Britain.

Furthermore, British foreign secretary Boris Johnson blamed the fresh Brexit row on efforts to frustrate Britain’s exit from the EU. “What is going on at the moment is that the issue of the Northern Irish border is being used quite a lot politically to try to keep the UK in the customs union, effectively the single market, so we cannot really leave the EU, that is what is going on.”

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