Ireland says UK cannot unilaterally scrap border backstop
While there has been progress made on customs arrangements for an emergency Irish border fix, there is still no agreement on its lifespan
Dublin — Ireland is willing to examine ways in which a “backstop” to keep the Irish border open after could be reviewed so long as it does not permit Britain to unilaterally walk away from it, Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said on Monday.
The sides in the negotiations have signalled progress on agreeing customs arrangements for an emergency Irish border fix but differences persist on the lifespan of the so-called “backstop”.
British Prime Minister Theresa May raised the possibility of a review mechanism for the backstop in a phone call on Monday with Varadkar that she had sought to update him on the current state of the talks, the Irish government said in a statement.
“The Taoiseach (Prime Minister) indicated an openness to consider proposals for a review, provided that it was clear that the outcome of any such review could not involve a unilateral decision to end the backstop,” the statement said.
“He recalled the prior commitments made that the backstop must apply ‘unless and until’ alternative arrangements are agreed.”
May told Varadkar that there would need to be a mechanism through which the backstop could be brought to an end, a spokesperson from her office said in a statement.
The phone call followed a report by Britain’s Daily Telegraph newspaper that Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit minister Dominic Raab had privately demanded the right to pull Britain out of the backstop after three months.
Varadkar separately told reporters that an expiry date of that nature would not be worth the paper it is written on.
With just five months until Britain is due to exit the EU, May has yet to nail down a divorce deal, with the Irish border insurance arrangement to keep open the border between British-ruled Northern Ireland and EU member state Ireland still the outstanding issue.
Cautious optimism that a deal between the EU and London may be in the offing has also been kept in check by the reality that such an agreement might not pass the British parliament.
‘Not there yet’
Irish foreign minister Simon Coveney had earlier said that neither Ireland nor the EU would ever sign up to an agreement that could be ended unilaterally.
The message that won quick approval from the EU’s deputy Brexit negotiator, Sabine Weyand, who reacted by saying: “Still necessary to repeat this, it seems.”
The latest proposal on the backstop, according to sources in Brussels, would keep all of Britain in a customs arrangement with the EU, as London has sought. It would also keep Northern Ireland in the customs union of the EU, as long insisted by the bloc.
But London and the bloc have still not agreed how long such an insurance policy would last. Britain wants to limit it while the EU says any clear cut-off date attached to the backstop would defeat its purpose.
“We are not there yet,” the European Commission’s chief spokesperson, Margaritis Schinas, told reporters on Monday.
After a meeting in Dublin on Friday with Britain’s cabinet office minister David Lidington, May’s de facto deputy, both Coveney and Lidington said the two sides were “very close” to resolving differences on the border issue.
Lidington also said the British government would stand by the written commitments it had already made on the backstop, which included the agreement that it would apply unless and until a better solution is found.
The EU has suggested that the tweaked “two-tier” backstop covering all of the UK could give mainland Britain some scope to set its own trade rules while keeping Northern Ireland aligned with the EU.