Press statement by Michel Barnier following this week’s round of negotiations

Brussels, 8 June 2018

Ladies and gentlemen,

You have all seen the UK’s customs paper, which we received yesterday.

I welcomed the publication of this paper. It is good to see the UK engaging with us by proposing text.

As I said yesterday, we are examining this paper objectively, looking at three questions:

  1. First: Is this a workable solution to avoid a hard border?
  2. Second: Does it respect the integrity of the Single Market and the Customs Union?
  3. Third: Is this an all-weather backstop?

Allow me to come back to each of these questions, which in turn, raise more specific ones.

1) First: Is this a workable solution to avoid a hard border?

  • The UK recognises that the proposals in its paper cannot qualify as a backstop since the issue of full regulatory alignment is not addressed. I repeat that we need regulatory alignment to avoid a hard border. How do we solve this issue?

2) Second question: Does the UK proposal respect the integrity of the Single Market and the Customs Union?

  • The UK wants to continue benefiting from our free trade agreements. Does that mean that we will have to reopen, renegotiate or even re-ratify our existing agreements in order to keep the UK in our customs territory after the transition?
  • The UK tells us that it wants to avoid any control. How does that fit with the requirements of our VAT system?

3) Third question: Is this an all-weather backstop?

  • The UK calls this arrangement temporary. How does that fit with the need to secure the absence of a hard border in all circumstances?
  • Moreover, we had agreed with the UK on the principle that public authorities and businesses would need to adapt only once to the new situation created by Brexit – only once. Does the temporary nature of the customs arrangement mean that several adaptations will now be needed?

Ladies and gentlemen,

These questions require further discussion. The UK itself recognises that these questions are relevant and difficult.

But let me recall that our backstop provides answers to each of these questions.

It provides specific solutions to the unique situation of Northern Ireland.

The UK is taking a different angle, however. It is looking for a UK-wide solution.

Let me be clear: our backstop cannot be extended to the whole UK.

Why? Because it has been designed for the specific situation of Northern Ireland.

What does it do?

  • On customs, Northern Ireland would form part of our customs territory. What is feasible with a territory the size of Northern Ireland is not necessarily feasible with the whole UK.
  • On regulatory alignment, we have been pragmatic and developed the least disruptive system for citizens and businesses on both sides.

Let’s go back to pragmatism. Checks carried out on ferries are less disruptive than along a 500km-long land border.

In addition, these checks can build on arrangements and facilities which already exist – which already exist – between the rest of the UK and Northern Ireland.

Obviously, behind all these rules, we want to preserve the fluidity and ease of trade and agricultural production on the island of Ireland.

And once again, we need such a solution in the Withdrawal Agreement by autumn.

We will not leave this issue unresolved.