Brexit date fast approaching but nothing is certain yet, Joseph Muscat says

As EU leaders meet at a summit in Brussels, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat outlined the issues behind Brexit’s Irish border problem

The only thing certain with Brexit is that negotiators are pressed for time, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said
The only thing certain with Brexit is that negotiators are pressed for time, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said

Although the expected date for Brexit is fast-approaching, there is as yet nothing certain about Britain’s European Union departure, Joseph Muscat said.

In comments on the backdrop of an EU leaders summit in Brussels today, the Prime Minister said the lack of any assurance regarding the Northern Ireland border issue is what is holding negotiations back.

Contrary to what many believe, the issue wasn’t a question of some straight-line border between Northern Ireland, which is part of the UK, and the Republic of Ireland, an independent EU member state, since there are dozens of roads which practically cross between both sides of the border, Muscat said.

As a result of the Good Friday Agreement which had been negotiated by a Labour government in Britain, borders between the two countries were abolished, and persons and goods can travel unimpeded.

“The problem now is that, after Brexit, the border is going to become one between an EU country and a country which isn’t a member state. It therefore has to be ensured that, once the UK leaves, any products entering the EU [through Ireland from the Northern Ireland border] are of the standard as all other goods which are allowed to enter the Union,” he said.

“You can’t, for instance, require that Maltese factories maintain certain standards, with their associated costs, but then allow products to enter the UK from somewhere where the same level of standards are not compatible with those of the Union, since this would not maintain a level playing field,” Muscat highlighted, “I’m not saying this will necessarily be the case, but this is what we need to prevent form happening.”

He said there was also a security matter, whereby if a border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland is created in the same form as it was in the past, this could lead to terrorist attacks and violence - as used to happen during the Troubles, previous to the Good Friday Agreement.

“We’ve realised that if no agreement is reached, this will still lead to some sort of border. There is still an impasse on this issue, and EU negotiators have said they need more time. If we would have solved it by November, or if it will take longer, isn’t yet clear,” he emphasised, “What is sure is that we are pressed for time.”

Muscat’s statements come as British Prime Minister Theresa May told EU leaders on Wednesday that she was open to extending the Brexit transition period to beyond December 2020, in an attempt to solve the Irish border problem.

Her ideas were quickly mooted in Britain, however, with former Brexit secretary David Davis calling them “unwise” and saying it was the wrong time to lessen negotiation pressures.

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