Rumours of the UK and the EU being close to a Customs Union agreement continued over the weekend, as British Prime Minister Theresa May is due to brief her cabinet on the progress of the negotiations on November 6.
The Irish, British, and European press continue to report on a deal that will keep the UK in the Customs Union and will be embedded in the Withdrawal Agreement, in addition to a separate backstop for Northern Ireland. What remains unclear is the deal’s duration, which could be key to whether or not it is approved by the House of Commons.
The pound surged against the US dollar and the Euro last week. The traditionally conservative Sunday Times confirmed the Customs Union report, adding that May is due to brief her cabinet later in the week. Reports indicate that she could garner parliamentary support for the deal from across the UK, including from the Democratic Unionist Party, whose uncompromisingly demands that Northern Ireland cannot be in a different customs regime than the rest of the UK.
Downing Street quickly dismissed the publication as “speculation” and it is clear that over half the cabinet is unwilling to support an agreement that entails an indefinite membership of the Customs Union.
When the UK leaves the European Union in March 2019, the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland will separate jurisdictions with their own laws and tariffs. The World Trade Organization requires members to act on a reciprocal basis, which means the UK and the EU will be forced to erect a border.
The 1998 Good Friday Agreement that ended three decades of sectarian conflict in Nothern Ireland states that there should not be a border that divides Northern Ireland from the Republic in the south. If the UK remains in the Customs Union, the issue will theoretically be resolved. If, however, a deal cannot be made, then further tensions could arise over a final deal.
Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said on November 3 that Brexit has undermined 20 years of peace that was achieved in Northern Ireland and is “fraying” relations between Dublin and London.
Germany and Poland are pushing for an orderly Brexit deal, with German Chancellor Angela Merkel referencing an exit agreement that outlines a future relationship between Britain and the EU.