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London yet to resolve EU Belfast office issue

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London yet to resolve EU Belfast office issue

A man waves a British flag on Brexit day in London, Britain, Jan 31, 2020. [Photo/Agencies] Brexit talks between the United Kingdom and the European Union have encountered another stumbling block over the issue of whether the EU should have a permanent presence in Northern Ireland following the end of Britain’s transition period out of the bloc, currently scheduled for the end of this year.

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Discussions so far have included a clause called the Northern Ireland protocol, a plan to avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland, part of Great Britain, and the EU member state the Republic of Ireland, in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

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This would mean there is an invisible border running down the Irish Sea, effectively separating Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK. It would also mean Northern Ireland continues to abide by numerous EU laws and customs statutes.

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The protocol states these would be implemented by British officials, but EU officials “shall have a right to be present” and the UK would “facilitate such a presence”.

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Before Britain’s departure in January, the EU had maintained offices in London, Cardiff, Edinburgh and Belfast. Westminster has rejected the idea of a permanent EU presence in Belfast, saying it would encourage division, and that EU officials should visit when necessary

Under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement of 1998, which ended decades of violent civil conflict in Northern Ireland, people in the province are guaranteed the right to hold both British and Irish citizenship, meaning many of them, while living in what is no longer an EU member state, have citizenship of an EU country

A slim majority

The Guardian reports that a slim majority of the 18 members of Parliament chosen by the voters of Northern Ireland to go to Westminster support the EU over the matter. That number includes MPs from Irish Republican party Sinn Fein, who although elected, refuse to take their seats

Paymaster general, Penny Mordaunt, has written to senior EU officials, saying that under the protocol, an office was not required, but Stephen Farry, MP for North Down, says the government is being petty-minded and pedantic

“This gamesmanship from the UK government is reflective of their wider approach of not taking preparations for the implementation of the protocol seriously,” he said

European Parliament Vice-President Mairead McGuinness has said a permanent EU presence would be the best compromise. “Belfast is perhaps more neutral than having such an office, tasked with overseeing the protocol’s implementation in Northern Ireland, in Dublin or London.”

The issue was on the agenda to be discussed on Thursday, when the Irish specialized committee, one of six groups working on implementing the withdrawal agreement, met for the first time