November 10, 2017
The Irish question intrudes
The big issue in the Brexit talks yet to be resolved before the December EU summit is the financial settlement. But the Irish question also looms large, and could potentially derail the process. The Irish government realises that its leverage in the discussion over Northern Ireland will be reduced after the summit gives the go-ahead for the second stage of the Brexit negotiations. This is why it is pressing for a solution to the Northern Ireland question beforehand - coupled with a threat to block the agreement if none is offered. The British had hoped that they can postpone this issue until later, on the grounds that there is nothing more to be said about Northern Ireland until the contours of the future trade agreement are drawn up.
Peter Foster of the Daily Telegraph has obtained the Irish position paper, which suggests that Ireland is now playing hardball. It says that the Article 50 agreement needed to respect the integrity of the internal market and the customs union, and recognise that Ireland will remain a member. It also insists that the UK avoid a hard border, and abide by EU rules. It goes on to say that the UK must ensure that it counteracts any regulatory divergence from the single market. The paper is effectively saying that the only solution to the Northern Ireland problem is for the UK to remain in the customs union and the single market, or at least accept 100 EU rules and regulations coverings customs and agriculture.
The article says the Irish position was discussed at the EU's Brexit working group ahead of yesterday's talks. It points out that Dublin's demands present an impossible dilemma for the UK, as it would have to choose between the territorial integrity of the country, or the reversal of Theresa May's Brexit mandate.
The FT also has a story on the same issue, quoting one senior EU official as saying that the Irish had become worried by the lack of progress, and were ready to exert maximum leverage. Another negotiator expressed concern about the Irish "wild card".