- Downing Street has published the details of a “backstop” proposal to avoid a hard Irish border after Brexit which is “time limited.”
- The “backstop” is an emergency measure which would ensure no hard border emerges between Northern Ireland and Ireland.
- Brexit secretary David Davis had two long meetings with the prime minister this morning after allies made it clear he was threatening to resign over plans to allow the backstop to be unlimited.
LONDON – Theresa May has agreed to keep Britain tied to EU customs rules for a “time limited” period after Brexit, following threats from her Brexit Secretary David Davis to resign.
The government on Thursday published detailed plans for a so-called “temporary customs arrangement” with the EU. It would temporarily align the UK with the EU customs union when the Brexit transition period ends in December 2020, taking effect if both sides failed to reach a customs agreement before then.
According to the text published by the government, UK negotiators will seek a “time limited” backstop which the UK “expects” to “end by December 2021 at the latest.”
The conditional nature of the wording falls short of some Brexiteers’ demands that the proposals should contain a firm commitment to a time limit. Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament’s chief Brexit co-ordinator, said it was “difficult to see” how the UK proposals for the Irish border would deliver a “workable solution to avoid a hard border.”
Difficult to see how UK proposal on customs aspects of IE/NI backstop will deliver a workable solution to avoid a hard border & respect integrity of the SM/CU. A backstop that is temporary is not a backstop, unless the definitive arrangement is the same as the backstop. #Brexit
— Guy Verhofstadt (@guyverhofstadt) June 7, 2018
Labour MP Hillary Benn, chair of the Brexit select committee, said the backstop document contained no proposals on regulatory standards which are necessary to avoid a hard border, meaning the UK would likely fail to make any progress at the EU Summit in June.
“This backstop contains no proposal on regulatory standards which will also be essential to keep an open border in Northern Ireland,” he said in a statement.
“Half a backstop is therefore unlikely to be sufficient to make progress possible at the June European Council.”
Keir Starmer, Labour’s shadow Brexit secretary, said May had “signed up to a flawed proposal which is inconsistent with her earlier commitments.”
The text also acknowledges that this will be subject to negotiation with the EU, where officials have already made it clear that any backstop cannot be time limited.
According to the government’s negotiating plan:
“The UK is clear that the temporary customs arrangement, should it be needed, should be time limited, and that it will be only in place until the future customs arrangement can be introduced. The UK is clear that the future customs arrangement needs to deliver on the commitments made in relation to Northern Ireland. The UK expects the future arrangement to be in place by the end of December 2021 at the latest. There are a range of options for how a time limit could be delivered, which the UK will propose and discuss with the EU.”
The plan represents an emergency measure to ensure that no border controls emerge between Northern Ireland and Ireland as a consequence of the UK leaving the customs union. The EU will not formally ratify the transition deal without reaching an agreement on the details of the backstop plan.
The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier welcomed the proposals and said they would be tested against three conditions, including whether they amounted to an “all-weather backstop.”
I welcome publication of #UK proposal on customs aspects of IE/NI backstop.
We will examine it with 3 questions: is it a workable solution to avoid a hard border? Does it respect the integrity of the SM/CU? Is it an all-weather backstop?
— Michel Barnier (@MichelBarnier) June 7, 2018
Barnier is due to give a press conference in Brussels on Friday where he will respond to the plans in more detail.
The final text was agreed after a series of meetings on Thursday morning between May, Davis, and other senior members of her Cabinet.
Allies of Davis hailed the text as a victory for the Brexit Secretary, who had pushed for a firm commitment to a time limit on any Brexit backstop. However, the text stops short of such a commitment.
Downing Street says it does not expect to use the proposals because it will come up with workable new customs proposals before December 2020, but it is yet to indicate how those arrangements would work.
The details of the plan have caused consternation among May’s Cabinet. The Times reported on Thursday that Brexit-supporting ministers besides Davis believed May had “deceived” them by keeping them in the dark about the backstop document.
She reportedly shared it with Remain-supporting Cabinet ministers over the weekend, days before it was presented to Eurosceptic minister Boris Johnson, Liam Fox, and Michael Gove.