The EU is expected to draft a legal text declaring that Northern Ireland will remain in the customs union, according to what Chief Negotiator Michel Barnier told to the Brussels press corps during a press conference at the Berlaymont.
“The UK decision to leave the single market and leave the customs union would make border checks unavoidable,” said Barnier. who insisted that the EU has no choice but to begin drafting legal language that would include a hard border, as UK negotiating officials have offered no clarity on the Ireland issue.
The two sides issued a joint report after the first phase of Brexit negotiations in late 2017 that laid out three possible solutions for Ireland that included a completely new framework for the relationship that would avoid having to reinstate a border and maintaining all existing regulatory rules and procedures that would effectively keep Northern Ireland in the bloc’s customs union.
With an update on the Ireland question not forthcoming, an afternoon meeting between EU negotiations coordinator Sabine Weyand and British officials scheduled for February 9 was called off.
Barnier later commented on the situation saying, “it is the EU’s responsibility to include a third option in the text of the withdrawal agreement to guarantee there will be no hard border, whatever the circumstances. This means we must start legally defining how the scenario would work in operational terms.”
Barnier also said the UK has asked for a transitional period if the economic status quo is to remain in place. “We aim to maintain the integrity of the single market and the application of the rules that are in place for all who benefit from them”.