Ladies and gentlemen,
The third Protocol concerns Ireland and Northern Ireland.
We have now found a solution, together with the UK, to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland.
First, we will use our best endeavours to solve this issue for the long term, through a future agreement.
If we are not ready by July 2020, we could jointly consider extending the transition to provide for more time.
Only if at the end of the transition, extended or not, we are still not there with a future agreement, would the backstop solution that we agreed today kick-in.
This backstop solution has evolved considerably from the original EU proposal of February this year.
Over the last few weeks, we have worked with the UK on the basis of their proposal.
In the backstop scenario, we agreed to create a EU-UK single customs territory. Northern Ireland will therefore remain in this same customs territory as the rest of the UK.
- Northern Ireland would remain aligned to those rules of the Single Market that are essential for avoiding a hard border. This concerns agricultural goods as well as all products.
- The UK would apply the EU’s Customs Code in Northern Ireland. This would allow Northern Irish businesses to bring goods into the Single Market without restrictions, which is essential to avoid a hard border.
The text of the Protocol also makes clear that the Northern Irish economy retains unfettered market access to the rest of the UK.
At the UK’s request, Northern Ireland will apply all the rules of the single market for electricity.
This is in the interest of the economy of Northern Ireland and Ireland.
Ladies and gentlemen,
This single EU-UK customs territory would mean that UK goods get tariff and quota free access to the EU27 market.
For competition to be open and fair in such a single customs territory, we have agreed provisions on state aid, competition, taxation, social and environmental standards.
This will guarantee that both EU and UK manufacturing will compete on a level playing field.
An essential condition for this single customs territory to cover fisheries and aquaculture products will be to agree between the Union and the UK on access to waters and fishing opportunities.
Overall, this backstop shows that we have been able to find common ground and meet our common objectives:
- To protect the Good Friday Agreement in all its dimensions, North-South cooperation and the all-island economy;
- To preserve the integrity of the EU’s Single Market – and Ireland’s place in it;
- To respect the UK’s territorial integrity and constitutional order;
- To protect the Common Travel Area between Ireland and the UK.
Finally, let me repeat that this backstop is not meant to be used. Our objective remains to reach a new agreement between the EU and the UK before the end of the transition.