• EU’s Brexit treaty set to reignite tensions


    BRUSSELS: EU negotiator Michel Barnier will unveil a long-awaited draft Brexit divorce treaty on Wednesday, which threatens to trigger new arguments with Britain on key issues.

    The 120-page document appears set to overlook key demands by British Prime Minister Theresa May on the Irish border, citizens rights and a post-Brexit transition period.

    The treaty attempts to set down in stone a withdrawal deal that May and European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker sealed in principle after marathon talks in December.

    Barnier insisted on Tuesday that there were “no surprises” in the draft, which will be adopted by EU commissioners before going to the remaining 27 EU states and then to Britain.

    But the former French minister warned that the EU’s draft treaty took a firm line on key issues “on which there has been no progress since December, which is a matter of concern for me.”

    Britain voted to leave the EU in a shock referendum in June 2016 and will finally depart on March 29, 2019.

    Irish ‘backstop’
    The most sensitive pillar is on Ireland, and all eyes will look to see how the Brussels negotiators draft out a key passage guaranteeing undisturbed ties between Northern Ireland and EU-member Ireland after the divorce.

    Barnier confirmed it would include a controversial “backstop” which says that if no better solution is found, Northern Ireland would remain in “full alignment” with the EU’s single market and customs union in order to uphold a 1998 peace agreement in the north.

    London opposes the clause, fearing it would effectively draw up a border across the Irish Sea between Northern Ireland and the rest of Britain.

    “On the Irish question, the choices are still ahead of us,” a diplomatic source said.

    On the transition phase, Barnier said the draft would rule out an “open-ended” transition— a period in which Britain will follow EU law without any say in policymaking, in return for access to the single market.

    Instead the EU will insist on a “short” phase strictly limited to the end of 2020.

    London and Brussels are also expected to disagree on whether EU expats moving to Britain during the transition should get the same rights as those who came before, and on whether London gets a say in new EU laws.



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