Theresa May will be held accountable for British plans to continue “fudging” the NI border issue
It is believed that France and Germany have blocked British plans to continue “fudging” the issue and now insist on a legal agreement set to spark an “explosive row” over the next few days.
The DUP – which props up the Conservative minority Government in Westminster – will strongly oppose the EU’s proposal.
UK Brexit negotiators are said to be worried that the hardline stance from Brussels has left them unable to negotiate.
It is understood that the approach will be set out in the European Commission’s draft withdrawal agreement.
According to officials who have seen the agreement, which is due to be published today, if the UK decides to diverge from EU rules the UK/EU border would move into the Irish Sea.
The legal text of the agreement is expected to omit compromise language insisted upon by Theresa May, who said that “no new regulatory barriers” would come into play between mainland Britain and Northern Ireland after Brexit.
One EU official mocked the British position by comparing it to “Narnia.”
UK negotiators are now increasingly resigned to the EU rejecting compromise on the Irish border question, driven on by a hardline Brexit agenda in Paris and Berlin.
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The EU’s hardline approach emerged as Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn committed his party to keeping Britain in a post-Brexit customs union should he become Prime Minister.
EU sources have said that membership of a Customs Union with the EU – which Mrs May continues to rule out – could form the basis of a compromise solution as part of a future UK-EU trade deal.
Today’s text is expected to ignore UK ideas for a compromise on the border.
Instead, it will focus on Britain’s “fall back” option of full regulatory alignment between Britain and the EU to avoid a hard border between Ulster and Ireland.
The looming battle has been caused by the EU’s determination to spell out, in “operational detail”, how the UK must make good on its pledge to avoid Northern Ireland’s return to a hard border after Brexit.
The UK set out its preferred solutions to the border question – a deep and comprehensive EU-UK trade deal or technical solutions such as number-plate recognition and trusted trader schemes – last December.
To the alarm of UK negotiators, it now seems that the draft text will focus almost entirely on a misinterpretation of their “full alignment” fallback.
A source briefed on the text said: “In practice, the EU wants the European Court of Justice to have jurisdiction over Northern Ireland, which will then become a rule-taker for large swathes of EU law.
“In effect, it will leave Northern Ireland in the EU, as the rest of UK departs.”
The fear, shared to different degrees by both sides, is that the text will portray Brussels as “trying to seize” Northern Ireland and trigger an outpouring of animosity against Brussels and the Irish government.
One UK source described the EU approach as “outrageous.”
An EU source predicted that today’s announcement would be “a mess” but said the EU had decided it could no longer allow the UK to duck the Irish issue and risk blowing up talks in October.
Jeremy Corbyn gave a thumbs up after giving a speech on Brexit at Coventry University yesterday
The EU has dismissed the UK’s technical plans to avoid a hard border as “magical thinking”.
A senior EU diplomat involved in the talks said it would be “putting things upside down” to give equal weight to the UK’s preferred options.
They said: “The UK wants its ‘Narnia’ options spelled out in greater detail, but we are still waiting for the proposals from dreamland.”
The EU has refused to show UK officials a formal draft of the text.
Irish deputy prime minister Simon Coveney met with Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, in Brussels to agree on the terms on Sunday.
Sources in Dublin have said Ireland still wishes to see the border issue solved through the EU-UK trade deal, acknowledging that this would almost certainly require the UK to remain part of a customs union with the EU after Brexit.