Government expects Brexit Irish border backstop will not be needed beyond 2021

Written by Richard Johnstone on 8 June 2018 in News

Paper published after reports Brexit secretary David Davis threatened to resign if no time limit was indicated

Brexit secretary David Davis Credit: PA

A government paper setting out a possible backstop to resolve Irish border issues caused by Brexit has said it expects a permanent solution to ensure there is no border infrastructure on the island to be in place by 2022 at the latest.

An agreement on the first stage of negotiations between the UK government and the European Union in March set out plans for a backstop in order to ensure there is no hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. The paper, published yesterday, revealed how the government proposes to implement these provisions after stating that the EU’s interpretation of the plans, which would have effectively have kept Britain in the customs union and single market, was "unacceptable".

The UK paper stated that when the UK leaves the EU next March it will also leave the EU customs union, but during a subsequent implementation period, the UK will continue to apply the same rules as the EU, meaning that access to each other’s markets will continue on current terms.


“The UK is committed to securing a new future customs arrangement between the UK and EU, which would operate from the end of the implementation period in December 2020, while also enabling the UK to forge new trading relationships with our partners in Europe and the rest of the world,” the paper said.

This future agreement will need to protect the Good Friday Agreement, including no hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, and no physical infrastructure or related checks and controls, the government said. “This commitment was recalled by both the UK and EU in the December 2017 joint report [on the progress of the talks], including the need to ensure that any solution protects Ireland’s place within the EU internal market and customs union, and preserves the integrity of the UK’s internal market and Northern Ireland’s place within it,” it stated. “Upholding these commitments requires a joint solution on both customs, which is addressed in this paper, and an approach on regulatory standards, which will also need to be addressed.”

Although the government stated that this can be achieved as part of the overall agreement between the UK and the EU bloc, it confirmed there would need to be “an appropriate backstop solution for the Northern Ireland land border in the Northern Ireland protocol element of the Withdrawal Agreement that would only come into force in limited circumstances”.

The UK proposal for such a backstop is to apply a “temporary customs arrangement should exist between the UK and the EU”, which would effectively maintain UK membership of the customs union through “the elimination of tariffs, quotas, rules of origin and customs processes including declarations on all UK-EU trade” and applying the EU’s common external tariff at the UK’s external border.

According to the UK paper, this is “not its preferred option”, as it wants to agree the permanent end state settlement by the end of the implementation period.

“This temporary arrangement would only come into force following the implementation period, in specific and narrow circumstances, such as a delay in the implementation of the end state customs arrangement, and would be time-limited,” the government said.

“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 insertion of a proposed end date for the backstop, which it was reported did not form part of the original draft, was a demand by Brexit secretary David Davis in order to show that the UK would not be tied to European Union customs rules indefinitely. Debate over whether to insert the date meant its publication was delayed yesterday, and there was speculation at one point that Davis may be prepared to resign over the issue.

Following the paper’s publication, Davis’s special adviser Stewart Jackson said the document had been “clarified and amended and now expresses, in much more detail, the time limited nature of our proposal - something the PM and DD have always been committed to”.

About the author

Richard Johnstone is CSW's deputy and online editor and tweets as @CSW_DepEd

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