Davis, May compromise over 'backstop' Irish border plan
'Expected' end-date of December 2021 inserted into wording
Brexit Secretary David Davis and Prime Minister Theresa May on Thursday averted a crisis when they agreed a compromise on the proposed Irish border "backstop" plan stating the arrangement should be in place by the end of December 2021 and "time limited"
After two tense meetings between the pair at Downing Street, plan for post-Brexit trade with the EU was published with the inclusion of the 2021 date. This would keep the UK in the customs union after the transition period ends in December 2020.
"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 document states.
"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."
In response chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier said he welcomed the proposal and would examine it against three questions: "Is it a workable solution to avoid a hard border? Does it respect the integrity of the single market/customs union? Is it an all-weather backstop?"
There had been speculation that Davis could resign over the issue, and leave May vulnerable to a revolt from hard Brexiteer ministers in her Cabinet. She also met with right-wing Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and Trade Secretary Liam Fox.
May is set to meet Cabinet ministers later to try to resolve the tensions over plans for Britain to remain tied to the EU tariffs framework for a period of time after the UK leaves the bloc, in a bid to avoid a hard border with the Republic of Ireland.
Originally, the proposal was to have been presented in Brussels on Wednesday, but was delayed as a result of Davis's resistance to the lack of an end date.
The proposal document states that where the backstop applies, a temporary customs arrangement should exist between the UK and the EU.
"This arrangement would see:
- The elimination of tariffs, quotas, rules of origin and customs processes including declarations on all UK-EU trade;
- The UK outside the scope of the common commercial policy (CCP), except where it is required to enable the temporary customs arrangement to function. This will mean applying the EU’s common external tariff at the UK’s external border, alongside the union customs code and such other parts of the CCP that are required to enable the temporary customs arrangement to function; and
- The UK able to negotiate, sign and ratify free trade agreements with rest of world partners and implement those elements that do not affect the functioning of the temporary customs arrangement," it states.
The EU has been adamant that any 'backstop' plan must remain open-ended until a suitable alternative is found so the UK can continue to trade with the EU with the least amount of distortions possible - and without endangering the peace between Northern Ireland and the Republic.