In the wake of a collapsed deal, Britain’s chief negotiator said there will be no special status for Northern Ireland. A “hard border” dividing the island of Ireland would have a profound political and economic impact.
David Davis, Britain’s chief Brexit negotiator, on Tuesday said Northern Ireland will not receive special treatment within the UK in the wake of the country’s formal divorce with the EU.
A deal on the border between the Republic of Ireland, an EU member state, and Northern Ireland, which forms part of the UK, collapsed at the last minute on Monday when the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) announced it would not accept the accord.
Read more: Northern Ireland’s fragile peace ‘all about the border’
According to a draft text, the UK would have ensured “continued regulatory alignment” between Northern Ireland and its EU neighbor, Ireland.
But DUP leader Arelene Foster said the party, which keeps May’s government in power, “will not accept any form of regulatory divergence which separates Northern Ireland economically or politically” from the UK.
“That is emphatically not something the United Kingdom government is considering,” Davis told parliament after May met with DUP colleagues on Tuesday. “We will not be treating one part of the United Kingdom differently from any other part.”
The DUP’s lack of support for the deal caught May’s government off guard minutes before it was expected to be announced. However, May remained optimistic, telling reporters on Monday that a deal could be hashed out before a mid-December EU summit, where European leaders will decide whether to advance talks on post-Brexit trade.
Why is the Irish border an issue?
Thousands of Irish and British citizens in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland cross the border every day for work. Irish government figures show that more than 100,000 British citizens live in the EU member state.
Ireland exported €15.6 billion ($18.44 billion) of goods to the UK, while imports of goods from the country amounted to €18 billion, approximately a quarter of all imports to the EU member state.
A “hard border” could threaten the Good Friday Agreement that calmed decades of sectarian violence on the island of Ireland. The DUP was the only major political party in Northern Ireland to oppose the agreement, which has ensured peace since it went into effect in 1999.
The UK and EU are attempting to hash out an agreement that will prevent a “hard border” from being implemented in the wake of Brexit, which would have a profound political, economic and financial impact on both sides.
‘Keep the UK in the single market’
Meanwhile, political parties across the UK have called for May’s government to offer a different approach to Brexit, one that would ensure equal status across the kingdom.
“This could be the moment for opposition and Brexit/remain Tories to force a different, less damaging approach – keep the UK in the single market and customs union,” said Nicola Sturgeon, who leads Scotland’s devolved government, in a tweet.
Read more: Brexit poll: Half of Britons support second referendum
“But it needs Labour to get its act together. How about it Jeremy Corbyn?” she added, referring to the leader of Britain’s main opposition party.
Keir Starmer, the Labour party’s Brexit spokesman, told parliament on Tuesday that the collapse of a deal was an “embarrassment” and showed that May’s government was in a “coalition of chaos.”
“Yesterday, the rubber hit the road: Fantasy met brutal reality. Will the prime minister now rethink her reckless red lines and put options such as a customs union and single market back on the table for negotiation?” asked Starmer.
May has repeatedly insisted that the Brexit means that the UK will no longer be part of the EU single market and customs union when it leaves the block on March 29, 2019.