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EU demolishes May’s plan for Irish border backstop

Luke James
Brussels correspondent
Prime Minister Theresa May holding a press conference at the G7 summit in Canada (Getty)

The EU has blown holes through Theresa May’s proposal for a new Irish border backstop, saying it leaves “key questions unanswered.”

The bloc’s Brexit negotiators have published an analysis of the Prime Minister’s plans which suggests strongly that they will not be accepted.

It concludes that the UK Government’s backstop would not serve its central purpose of avoiding a hard border.

A legally binding backstop is required by October if there’s to be a Brexit deal.

The Prime Minister made a bid to break the deadlock on Thursday with a proposal for a temporary customs union arrangement between the whole of the UK and the EU.

It would come into force if a permanent solution to avoiding a hard border – through frictionless trade or technological solutions – hadn’t been found by the end of the transition period in December 2020.

It was carefully crafted in an effort to appease her Brexit Secretary, David Davis, who had threatened to quit if there was no cut-off date.

Davis agreed to remain in place after receiving a guarantee the arrangement would last just a year and held a short meeting with EU Brexit chief Michel Barnier in Brussels today.

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But his blessing has created a problem for the EU, whose new analysis questions whether such a time-limited arrangement can be considered a backstop at all.

It calls the plans a “complex and unprecedented arrangement for short duration.”

The EU’s other main objection to the UK plan is that it doesn’t include a commitment to maintaining the same regulatory standards.

That would means checks on goods at the border, according to the EU document which concludes sharply: “Does not cover regulatory controls, leading to a hard border.”

Implications for trade are also raised in the document. The UK backstop would create “uncertainty on scope of EU trade policy applicable to the UK” that could require them to renegotiate existing free trade agreements, it states.

The EU published an explainer of its own backstop proposal in a bid to convince the UK government of its merits, but Theresa May has said it is not acceptable because it creates a regulatory border between Northern Ireland and the UK.

Intensive talks will continue between both sides in the run up to the European Council summit on June 28, where leaders hope to make significant progress towards a solution to the Irish border issue.

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