In a u-turn, the European Parliament is set to call for the North of Ireland to remain part of the EU single market and customs union.
MEPs of the major parties in the parliament have concluded it is the best solution to the problem of ensuring there is no border in Ireland, according to reports.
It would mean continued free movement on the island of Ireland, with customs checks instead taking place at ports on the Irish sea for visitors travelling between Great Britain and Ireland.
The resolution, set to be voted on hours before British Prime Minister Theresa May’s high-profile Tory conference speech, rubbishes Britain’s existing proposals on the issue.
Last week, the European Parliament’s chief Brexit coordinator visited the border area in Ireland, and tweeted a photograph (above) of a farm along the border, with this caption: “A visual demonstration of this complicated and inexistent border: brown field is in the Rep. of Ireland and the green field is in N. Ireland.”
Both London and the EU have insisted there should be no “hardening” of the border through Ireland, once the most heavily fortified in western Europe before being demilitarised under the peace process, but which could now again become a major international frontier.
It was reported this week that European Parliament chiefs believe shifting border posts to Irish sea ports is the best solution. One official was reported to have said the EU’s physical border had to be somewhere and “could not just have a gaping hole in it”.
The new EU parliament resolution rubbishes Britain’s proposals for the border to be enforced by mobile patrols. At a press conference in Brussels the European Commission’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier said the resolution was “important”, mentioning it alongside next month’s European Council meeting as one of the hurdles Britain would have to clear before it could progress to the next stage of talks.
The wide-ranging resolution, which covers the whole Brexit process so far, also calls for full compliance with the Good Friday Agreement in all its parts.
Meanwhile, the Westminster opposition spokesperson on the North of Ireland, Labour’s Owen Smith, backed the calls for post-Brexit special status for the Six Counties. Mr Smith made the comments at a Labour Party conference fringe event organised by Sinn Fein.
At the event he called for the North of Ireland to left “within the EU and as part of Britain” - saying that such an approach would serve as a solution to post-Brexit issues.
But the British government appeared unmoved. A spokesperson said: “We recognise that the solutions to the unique circumstances in Northern Ireland must respect the integrity of the EU single market and customs union. But they must also respect the integrity of the United Kingdom.”