Thursday 17 January 2019

Everything you should know about Brexit, backstops and Boris... but were probably too underwhelmed to ask

Theresa May and Boris Johnson.
Theresa May and Boris Johnson.
Philip Ryan

Philip Ryan

THE battle to prevent a hard Border after Brexit appears to have moved forward - well, a little - after the British government this week signalled a willingness to keep one foot inside and one outside the European Union.

So far, so unclear....

Here, Philip Ryan guides you through the maze of bluster, jargon and utter boredom to give a succinct appraisal of where we stand. It's important, you know...

Q: The on-going Brexit shambles in the UK is back in the headlines again but what’s going on?

A: After months of internal Conservative Party wrangling, UK Prime Minister Theresa May seems to have reached some form of consensus with her Brexit-backing cabinet ministers on how to navigate Britain’s path out of the EU.

Q: Is that were the ‘backstop’ proposal comes into play?

A: Yes.  The EU and the UK agreed on a backstop solution, or default position, which would prevent a hard border in Northern Ireland if a trade deal was not reached before Britain officially leaves the union next year.

The backstop would mean EU regulations on food and service would apply in Northern Ireland while a trade deal was being negotiated. This would mean customs checks would not be needed along the border.

Q: Is that deal still in place?

A: Mrs May agreed to this last year but has since rowed back due to pressure from anti-EU Cabinet ministers.

However, yesterday, she proposed a time limited backstop arrangement between the entire UK and the EU until 2021 when she expects, or at least hopes, a trade deal in place. The proposal means the UK would effectively remain in the EU customs union and abide by its regulations for another three years.

Q: But will a trade deal be in place by then?

A: Very unlikely as trade deals can take more than a decade to agree and the slow progress on Brexit does not bode well for any future arrangements between the EU and UK.

Q: And is the Irish Government happy with the latest proposal?

11 NEWS 01Ireland abortion .jpg
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Photo: Brian Lawless/PA

A: Taoiseach Leo Varadkar yesterday insisted the backstop agreement, which he agreed last December, could not be time limited and must be “all weather”  - meaning it must apply to any circumstances which could result in a hard border.

Q: So is the EU negotiating team happy with Ms May’s proposal?

A: EU negotiator Michel Barnier welcomed the backstop suggestion but insisted he needed  to examine the proposal to ensure it will prevent a hard border and respects the integrity of the EU customs union and single market.

Q: But at least Ms May’s ministers are happy with the proposal she has put on the table right?

A: Absolutely not. UK Brexit Secretary David Davis reportedly threatened to resign over the proposal. But then he has reportedly threatened to resign several times throughout the negotiations. 

Q: Also what’s this recording of Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson all about?

Boris Johnson

A: Last night, a recording emerged of Mr Johnson speaking at a private Conservative Party function. In his usual colourful language, he dismissed fears over a return of a hard border in Northern Ireland as “pure millennium bug stuff”.

“It’s so small and there are so few firms that actually use that border regularly, it’s just beyond belief that we’re allowing the tail wag the dog in this way.

“We’re allowing the whole of our agenda to be dictated by this folly,” he said.

Q: That’s not going to go down well with the Irish Government or the EU?

A: No it will not. The is dismissive attitude to the border concerns plays to Mr Johnson’s Brexiteer supporters but is likely to inflame tension between Ireland, the EU and the UK.

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