The European Union has released a draft proposal that would see a “common regulatory area” with the island of Ireland following on from Brexit. In effect, by enforcing a customs union, The EU has demanded that Britain hand over sovereignty of Northern Ireland to Brussels if it cannot find an solution to the Irish border question.

In addition, the EU has also rejected British proposals that cover the transition period. The draft legal document document states that EU citizens arriving after March 2019 must have identical rights to those already living in the UK.

It also gives the European Commission powers to suspend Britain’s access to the single market unilaterally if Brussels believes the UK has broken the terms of the agreement.

British Prime Minister Theresa May has categorically ruled out this option by saying in the House of Commons today that “no UK Prime Minister could ever agree to this.”

Whilst the EU has insisted that this a “backstop” option and is not intended to “provoke” the UK, it places serious risk on the chances of signing a transition agreement at next month’s European summit.

More importantly, the text is cause concern in some European capitals who are worried that the Commission’s uncompromising line is counter-productive. 

It is a hard-hitting document that sets out in legal terms to establish a “common regulatory area” between the north and south of Ireland covering customs, VAT, energy and product standards if no deal is agreed. Therefore, Britain would be expected to carry out customs checks on all goods crossing the Irish sea while Northern Ireland would be “considered to be part of the customs territory of the Union”. 

The document also rejects British proposals for an independent arbitration panel to resolve future disputes between the UK and the EU. While it sets up a joint committee to resolve differences in the first instance, any dispute that cannot be fixed must be passed up to the European Court of Justice.

Although the Irish Government has welcomed the move, the powerful Democratic Unionist Party is vehemently against it. Sammy Wilson, the DUP’s Brexit Spokesman has said today that:

“It seems that the EU have made it quite clear that the only option they are interested in is regulatory alignment which would either remove Northern Ireland from the United Kingdom, separate us from our main market and politically create an issue where we are separated from the rest of the United Kingdom, or else force the whole of the United Kingdom to stay in the single market and the customs union.”

Leo Varadkar, the Irish prime minister, conceded that Dublin and London were set on a collision course over the issue. It seems the EU is only too happy to exploit this in its attempt to wield further power from the UK. It forces the question as to whether the EU is more interested in a civil discussion over the border issue or whether they are only too happy to deliver heavy-handed legal documents that are intended to force the UK’s hand in the matter.