Mutual onus on EU-UK to be flexible

Prime Minister Theresa May in Florence, Italy, sets out her plans for a transitional period from the date of Brexit in March 2019, expected to last two years, before moving to a permanent trade deal. It was good to hear Mrs May refer to the joint commitment to an absence of border 'physical infrastructure'. Photo: Jeff J Mitchell/PA Wire
Prime Minister Theresa May in Florence, Italy, sets out her plans for a transitional period from the date of Brexit in March 2019, expected to last two years, before moving to a permanent trade deal. It was good to hear Mrs May refer to the joint commitment to an absence of border 'physical infrastructure'. Photo: Jeff J Mitchell/PA Wire

Before the EU membership referendum in the UK, both Church of Ireland archbishops cogently expressed concerns about a pro-Brexit vote.

Since the vote, former Archbishop of Armagh Lord Eames has voiced concerns about its effect on relationships across the island of Ireland.

Letters

Letters

These views were all reported in the Church of Ireland Gazette, while I was still editor, and a Gazette editorial at the time expressed concerns about the border issue in particular.

In terms of the border, it was therefore good to hear the prime minister, in her Florence speech, refer to a UK and EU joint commitment to a post-Brexit absence of border “physical infrastructure” in this island.

The EU’s Article 50 provides, in the case of a member state wishing to withdraw from the Union, that the European Council sets the “guidelines” for exit negotiations.

This the Council has done in the case of Brexit. But of course there is a mutual requirement to be constructive and flexible.

Article 50 also provides that “the Union shall negotiate and conclude an agreement” with the withdrawing state. This wording, “negotiate and conclude”, would appear to place a clear obligation on the EU side in the negotiations actually to reach an agreement.

Of course, an agreement is not always possible between opposing parties to a dispute, but the implications of this reality seem to have been missed by the legislators.

Perhaps Article 50 might leave the EU liable to compensate the UK, as a withdrawing member state, if the EU does not reach an agreement in the Brexit negotiations, because in those circumstances the EU would have failed to “conclude an agreement”.

Perhaps the compensation to the UK would be equivalent of the mooted British exit bill of €40bn!

Canon Ian Ellis, Newcastle, Co Down