N. Ireland ‘backstop’ option sparks fresh Brexit tensions
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Prime Minister Theresa May warned on Wednesday that Britain would never allow the EU to "undermine" its constitutional integrity, as she rejected a draft divorce treaty unveiled by the bloc's chief negotiator Michel Barnier.
"The draft legal text will, if implemented, undermine the UK common market and threaten the constitutional integrity of the UK by creating a customs and regulatory border down the Irish Sea and no UK prime minister could ever agree to it," May told parliament.
Speaking to reporters earlier Wednesday a spokesman for the prime minister's office said, "We agreed to the joint report. The prime minister is clear that she doesn't agree to the text that has been put forward today."
The draft legal agreement published by the EU earlier Wednesday said British-ruled Northern Ireland could stay part of a customs union with the bloc after Brexit if a better solution is not found.
The "backstop" proposal in a draft Brexit withdrawal agreement unveiled by Barnier is set to stoke fresh tensions between London and Brussels.
"My personal opinion is that this backstop will not call into question the constitutional or institutional order of the UK," Barnier told a news conference.
"I'm not trying to provoke, I'm not trying to create any shockwaves," Barnier added, calling on Britain to "keep calm and stay pragmatic."
The 120-page agreement says that in the absence of another plan, "a common regulatory area comprising the Union and the United Kingdom in respect of Northern Ireland" would be set up.
"The common regulatory area shall constitute an area without internal borders in which the free movement of goods is ensured and North-South cooperation," it says.
Ireland and the EU have called for any Brexit agreement to avoid a hard border including customs checks, in order to protect the 1998 Good Friday agreement in Northern Ireland, which ended three decades of bloody sectarian violence.
Britain says it wants a technological solution without staying in the customs union.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)