The EU is waiting for concrete proposals from the UK on how to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland, the European Commission has said, prior to a phone call between UK prime minister Boris Johnson and commission head Jean-Claude Juncker on Tuesday (27 August).
“It is up to the UK government to come with concrete proposals that are compatible with the withdrawal agreement,” a commission spokesperson said earlier in the day.
Juncker and Johnson will have “an opportunity to touch base”, the spokesperson added.
Johnson, who took up office in July, met EU leaders for the first time last week and also at a G7 summit at the weekend, but Juncker was not there due to health reasons.
They will speak after a group of British experts published a proposal on how to avoid a hard Irish border which did away with the “backstop” – a previous plan, denounced by Johnson, on keeping the UK in the customs union for the time being.
Johnson also spoke to Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte on Tuesday, who has emerged as an EU interlocutor for three successive UK prime ministers since the Brexit saga began three years ago.
“The EU-27 remain open to concrete proposals compatible with the withdrawal agreement: respect for the integrity of the single market and no hard border on the Irish isle,” Rutte tweeted after his phone call with Johnson.
The backstop is the key stumbling block in clinching a divorce deal between the EU and the UK.
The UK parliament has rejected the withdrawal agreement with the backstop in place and Johnson has called it “anti-democratic”.
It would only enter into life if the EU and the UK were unable to agree on a future trade deal after a two-year transition period, but it would also prevent the UK from signing its own trade deals, which was one of the Brexiteers’ main demands, while it remained in force.
The EU has repeatedly said that it was not willing to renegotiate the withdrawal deal, but Germany and France recently gave the UK 30 days to come up with alternatives.
Previous British ideas on using high-tech gadgets to screen border traffic would not be feasible for years according to trade experts.
But Johnson’s Brexit point man, David Frost, will be in Brussels on Wednesday to kick off new talks “on a technical level”, the commission also said.
The commission did not comment on a recent British legal experts’ proposal on an alternative to the backstop, noting that new suggestions would have to come from the British government directly.
The proposal was drawn up by Jonathan Faull, a veteran former EU official who worked on Brexit prior to the referendum in 2016,
and academics Joseph Weiler and Daniel Sarmiento.
It says the UK and Ireland would make it a criminal offence to export goods across the border in Ireland that breached the EU’s regulatory rules, and that trade hub and spot checks could serve as an alternative to border checks.
At the trade centres “goods destined for the EU or the UK respectively via Northern Ireland would be processed, including payment of duties and the like, before they actually left British or Irish territory,” the experts suggested.
This would not compromise the EU’s single market, they said, but it also would not bind the UK in the customs union, and could serve as the basis for a future trade agreement between the two sides.
They also said the issue could be dealt with in the political preamble to the withdrawal agreement, which would not require much renegotiation, or that the solution could be proclaimed in a legally binding commitment by EU leaders.
The EU’s top court, whose jurisdiction Brexiteers want to do away with, would only be involved “regarding the interpretation of EU standards, as incorporated into UK law, when applied to UK exports to the EU internal market through Northern Ireland”.
“[The proposal] will guarantee the integrity and autonomy of the EU’s and UK’s respective customs and regulatory territories, and will require neither a customs union between the two unless that is the wish of both, nor a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic,” the experts said.
“The proposal puts two legal orders in interaction but preserving their autonomy, with a premise of mutual trust and sincere cooperation,” they said.