Ireland, and our EU partners, stand by the Withdrawal Agreement. Equally, we are committed to finding a way forward, and, as we have repeatedly said, are open to hearing any credible, fully worked-out proposals from the UK. These should be raised with the European Commission. Negotiations on the UK’s withdrawal from the EU are a matter for the European Commission Task Force, led by chief negotiator Michel Barnier, and the UK Government.
As both Michel Barnier and I have stated on numerous occasions it is up to the UK to provide proposals, which should be credible, concrete and legally operable and capable of achieving the same outcome as the backstop. This means that any solutions must avoid a hard border, fully protect the Good Friday Agreement and North-South cooperation, and preserve the all-island economy, as well the integrity of the EU Single Market and Ireland’s place in it.
I met with Michel Barnier on 27 September and we had a chance to exchange views on our recent engagements with our British counterparts and to take stock together of where we are. While contacts between the UK and Commission Taskforce are continuing, the Commission have made clear that the ideas and concepts presented by the UK are technical non-papers rather than detailed, credible proposals and would not be legally operable, nor deliver the same outcomes as the backstop. The issue of a special economic zone was not discussed during the meeting and has not been raised by the UK during its ongoing discussions with the Task Force.
It is important to acknowledge that Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland as set out in the Withdrawal Agreement does put in place a specific arrangement for Northern Ireland which responds to the unique circumstances on the island of Ireland. The backstop provides alignment with those rules of the Single Market and Customs Union necessary to avoid a hard border, thus protecting the Good Friday Agreement, and to protect the Single Market. These arrangements enable Northern Ireland businesses to trade freely with both the rest of the UK and with the EU.
A no deal outcome will never be the choice of Ireland, or the EU, but we cannot move away from an agreed negotiated position to an unknown and untested solution. Responsibility for avoiding a no deal outcome lies with the UK.