In the December Joint Report of EU and UK negotiators, the UK committed to ensuring there would be no border infrastructure of any kind or associated checks and controls on the island of Ireland. The report stated the UK’s intention to achieve this through the wider EU-UK future relationship agreement or through specific solutions. Should this not be possible, the UK committed to maintaining full alignment with those rules of the Internal Market and Customs Union which, now or in the future, support North South cooperation, the all-island economy and the protection of the Good Friday Agreement.
Work on drafting the relevant parts of the Withdrawal Agreement to give legal effect to these commitments has been a key focus since December. Published on 28 February, the draft Withdrawal Agreement contains a Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland, which is an integral part of the Agreement.
At this point, it is clear that while there are areas in the Protocol where shared policy objectives have been identified, there are some fundamental issues that have yet to be resolved.
The UK has accepted that a legally operative version of the ‘backstop’ for the border will be included in the Withdrawal Agreement, in line with paragraph 49 of the Joint Progress Report agreed last December, and that all the issues identified in the draft Protocol reflect those that must be addressed. These were important steps forward.
The current schedule of negotiations now underway between the EU and the UK is being taken forward with a view to continuing efforts to narrow the remaining gaps on the draft Protocol.
Significant progress is needed between now and the June European Council. At this stage in the negotiations, it is more important than ever that the UK provides more detailed and realistic proposals to the EU.
Coordinators have agreed that negotiations will continue on a regular basis and Ireland will continue its close cooperation with Michel Barnier’s team. This includes our involvement in discussions, where appropriate, while respecting the negotiation structures that have been mandated by the European Council.