The EU wants to conclude a trade agreement with the United Kingdom as soon as possible after the brexit on 30 March. A separate emergency regulation for Northern Ireland to prevent a hard border with Ireland after the British departure from the EU is temporary.

That is what EU President Donald Tusk and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker write in a joint letter in an attempt to reassure the British House of Commons about the retirement agreement that Prime Minister Theresa May has concluded with the 27 other EU leaders. They call it “a fair compromise” which, however, can not be renegotiated.

The British Parliament will vote on the principle agreement on Tuesday evening. May hopes that a clarification from Brussels about the deal, and especially about the sensitive border issue, will convince politicians.

After the brexit, the United Kingdom will remain in the customs union with the EU until 31 December 2020 in accordance with the principle agreements during a transitional period. But from 2021 persons and goods on the border between (British) Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland should be controlled. As a part of the Good Friday Agreement, which put an end to the years of violent conflict between pro-Irish Catholics and London-minded Protestants, this limit has been open since 1998.

In a new trade agreement between London and Brussels, it is therefore necessary to lay down how a hard limit will also be prevented in the future. As long as this treaty does not exist, a separate scheme (a ‘backstop’) must guarantee this. Brussels now clarifies that the EU will work hard on an alternative solution so that this backstop does not come or only temporarily.

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