Northern Ireland to stay in EU Single Market, a border in the Irish Sea

Graham Charles Lear
6 min readOct 3, 2019


Transition period remains, meaning the UK stays in the EU with no say until 01 Jan 2022 at earliest

Two documents were released publicly by the Government yesterday. I understand that another 44 pages of legal text have also been presented to the EU, but this document is not available.

What this is — and what it is not

Firstly, this is NOT a new deal with the EU. The documents relate principally to the infamous ‘Northern Ireland Backstop’. This is NOT a “ripping up” of Mrs May’s surrender treaty. The documents go into no detail on all the other aspects of Mrs May’s Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration, beyond some aspirations. Based on the two documents, here is a summary.

1 The United Kingdom is to be split until at least 2026, more likely 2030

2 The UK will not leave the Single Market and Customs Union until at least 01 Jan 2022, more likely 2024

3 The six counties of Northern Ireland will then in effect stay in the EU Single Market for four further years

4 Northern Ireland will, however, be outside the EU’s Customs Union, but only after the Transition Period

5 The UK as a whole will enter a ‘Transition Period’ on 01 Nov 2019 — under EU laws but with no say over them

6 This Transition Period will last until at least 01 Jan 2022, and most probably until at least 01 Jan 2024

7 At the end of the Transition Period Great Britain will finally be free, but Northern Ireland will not

8 Positive: UK Government no longer intends to ‘align closely’ with EU laws after the end of the Transition Period.

Key passages from the Prime Minister’s letter to President Juncker

Readers can read the whole of the PM’s letter to the unelected EU Commission President Juncker here. Below I present some key passages.

“The backstop acted as a bridge to a proposed future relationship with the EU in which the UK would be closely integrated with EU customs arrangements and would align with EU law in many areas. That proposed future relationship is not the goal of the current UK Government. The Government intends that the future relationship should be based on a Free Trade Agreement in which the UK takes control of its own regulatory affairs and trade policy. In these circumstances, the proposed “backstop” is a bridge to nowhere, and a new way forward must be found.”

“This Government proposes a New Deal for Northern Ireland”

“It provides for the potential creation of an all-island regulatory zone on the island of Ireland, covering all goods including agrifood.”

“This regulatory zone must depend on the consent of those affected by it. This is essential to the acceptability of arrangements under which part of the UK accepts the rules of a different political entity. It is fundamental to democracy.”

Key passages from the Government’s “Proposals for an amended protocol on Ireland/N.I.”

Readers can read the whole of the Government’s proposals here. Below I present some key passages.

The proposal set out in this note would see regulatory checks applying between Great Britain and Northern Ireland”

“7 b. In addition, Northern Ireland would also align with all relevant EU rules relating to the placing on the market of manufactured goods. This would reinforce the arrangements above by ensuring that regulatory checks can be implemented at the boundary of the zone, as appropriate and in line with relevant EU law, minimising the potential for non-compliance.”

“7 c. The governance framework for this zone would be as set out in the previous Protocol.”

“9. To support this system of controls at the boundary of the zone, traders moving goods from Great Britain to Northern Ireland would need to notify the relevant authorities before entering Northern Ireland, in order to provide the necessary information to undertake the appropriate checks, and, where appropriate, prevent the entry of products prohibited or restricted by EU rules.”

“12. The zone of regulatory compliance will mean that Northern Ireland will be, in significant sectors of its economy, governed by laws in which it has no say. That is clearly a significant democratic problem.”

Reaction from UK politicians and from the EU

Jeremy Corbyn “It’s worse than Theresa May’s deal.” — Sky News interview.

Arlene Foster (Leader of the DUP in Northern Ireland) “The DUP has always indicated that the United Kingdom must leave the EU as one nation and in so doing that no barriers to trade are erected within the UK.

This offer provides a basis for the EU to continue in a serious and sustained engagement with the UK Government without risk to the internal market of the United Kingdom. It will require changes to the draft withdrawal treaty and we welcome the fact that all sides now recognise that requirement in order to secure the agreement.

“These proposals would ensure that Northern Ireland would be out of the EU Customs Union and the Single Market as with the rest of the United Kingdom.” — Official DUP statement.

Steve Baker MP (Chairman of the ERG group of Conservative MPs) : “The PM’s made a very significant move here. We said we wanted to ‘Chuck Chequers’ and at last we have a Prime Minister putting an FTA as a destination. But we haven’t yet seen that destination set out in full and there are other problems with the WA”

Stephen Kinnock MP (informal leader of around 25 rebel Labour MPs) “If Dublin and Brussels are happy, then we’re happy.”

Meanwhile, it seems that the 21 Conservative arch-Remainer MPs who had the whip withdrawn two weeks ago are likely to back the deal. With the DUP, ERG, and Labour rebels on board this would be enough to see the deal pass the House of Commons.

EU Commission official speaking off the record “The proposal is fundamentally flawed. If it takes it or leaves it, we better close the book and start talking about the modalities of an extension. If they want to commit stupidity, it should be fully their responsibility.”

EU Parliament: “The Brexit Steering group at the @Europarl_EN is absolutely not positive about PM Johnson’s proposals. It doesn’t provide the necessary safeguards for Ireland.” (Guy Verhofstadt MEP, EU Parliament Brexit Co-ordinator)

It is tempting to say that none of the above matters, because the EU will reject the new proposals. Nevertheless, I felt it was important to cover the Johnson Government’s first substantive documents to the EU.

Do they represent a plan for Brexit? No. Not even close. They relate to the frankly ridiculously-overstated issue of a border in Northern Ireland — an issue I have covered many times.

It is relevant to point out, however, that the fresh proposals represent an enormous shift in UK Government policy. They are prepared to put a border down the middle of the Irish Sea, thereby separating an important part of the UK from the mainland. The EU will at least be cock-a-hoop at this.

As to why the DUP have done an apparent U-turn, one must wonder why this is. Yesterday, after the Government’s documents were released, I picked up an announcement from the Government while the media was focusing on Boris Johnson.

The Rt Hon Julian Smith MP, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, announced that the province is to receive more than half of the new UK Growth Deals fund, designed to support economic growth, create jobs or invest in local projects. I thought readers might like to know. Make what you will about THAT if you will.

Even if the new Boris Johnson proposals are a bluff, they still matter

Mrs May’s surrender document is an abomination on so many levels. Even if the new Prime Minister expects the EU to reject the new proposals, these allow the EU to persist in their fantasy world, believing that the majority of what they imposed on Mrs May is in any way reasonable.

At some point, someone has to stand up to this dysfunctional and increasingly-totalitarian regime, and tell it like it is.

Attempting to appease a dictator has consequences. The British people learnt that lesson at great cost in the last century.

[ Sources: UK Government | Northern Ireland Office | EU Commission | DUP | Sky News | Twitter accounts of politicians ]



Graham Charles Lear

What is life without a little controversy in it? Quite boring and sterile would be my answer.