MEPs 'could not consent' to PM's new Brexit plan

MEPS have poured  cold water on the UK government’s proposals for measures to replace the controversial ‘backstop’ in the Brexit deal saying they have "grave concerns" and they could not consent to them.

4 October 2019
By Oliver Rowland

In a written statement the European Parliament’s Brexit Steering Group (BSG) says the “last-minute proposals… do not address the real issues that need to be resolved, named the all-island economy, the full respect of the Good Friday Agreement and the integrity of the Single Market.”

The MEPs said they remain open to “workable, legally operable and serious solutions” but the UK’s ideas “fall short and represent a significant movement away from these joint objectives”.

There have also been negative comments on social media from the European Council’s president and the EU’s lead negotiator after the UK government made its first formal submissions this week as to how to have a deal without the backstop, which the Johnson government insists is unacceptable.

The approval of the MEPs is vital as they have a final veto on any withdrawal agreement being approved.

At the Conservative Party conference on Wednesday evening Mr Johnson stated that he loves the EU and the Conservatives are not an “anti-EU” party, but “after 45 years of really dramatic constitutional change in our relationships, we must have a new relationship with the EU, a confident and positive partnership”.

He called his new plan “constructive and reasonable proposals which provide a compromise for both sides”.

It consists of the whole UK leaving the EU’s customs union at the end of the planned transition period but Northern Ireland remaining aligned with EU single market rules for goods and agricultural and food products. 

For this “all-island regulatory zone” to come into effect the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly would have to approve the arrangements and then vote every four years on keeping them. The executive has been vacant since January 2017 and the parliament has also been suspended since then. 

There would have to be regulatory checks on goods crossing between the mainland UK and Northern Ireland. On the island of Ireland there would be some customs checks on goods crossing between Ireland and Northern Ireland but with paperwork submitted electronically and only a “very small number” of physical checks “at traders’ premises or other points on the supply chain”.

However there would be a firm commitment to having no physical infrastructure at the border or any customs or regulatory checks there.

The UK government is said to have hoped to enter a final round of intense negotiations on the plan with the aim of it being approved at the next EU Council summit on October 17-18.

BSG leader Guy Verhofstadt said the almost unanimous reaction of its members to the proposals was “not positive”. 

“Not positive because in the sense that we don’t think it is really the safeguard that Ireland needs,” he said.

Meanwhile the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier also implied in a tweet that the proposals were not satisfactory:

And European Council president Donald Tusk said he was “unconvinced.

In its statement the BSG says the plan is vague as to exactly where and how customs and regulatory checks would be carried out and they fear that there would be insufficient protections for EU consumers and businesses, potentially “leaving the EU with a significant hole in its Single Market”.

Furthermore the operational details would remain to be worked out during the transition period, which does not allow for enough certainty, it said.

“This would mean the European Parliament would have to give consent to the Protocol without knowing its full implications, nor having any guarantee as to its legal operation. This is unacceptable.”

Finally the right of consent for the Northern Ireland authorities makes the agreement “contingent, uncertain, provisional and unilateral”, the statement says.

"In summary, the BSG has grave concerns about the UK proposal, as tabled. Safeguarding peace and stability on the island of Ireland, protection of citizens and EU’s legal order has to be the main focus of any deal. The UK proposals do not match even remotely what was agreed as a sufficient compromise in the backstop.

"The European Parliament remains open to explore all proposals, but these need to be credible, legally operable, and in practise have the same effect as the compromises found in the Withdrawal Agreement."

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