Brexit: Little expectation in Brussels or Dublin of deal before October 31st
Government and EU to engage with UK on backstop proposals
The Government and the European Commission have said they will engage with the British government over the coming days on proposals unveiled by British prime minister Boris Johnson to replace the backstop.
While the commission and Government here did not want to dismiss the British initiative, highly placed sources agreed it is unrealistic to expect that a new agreement could be struck on the basis of the British submission. Most are of the view that an extension to the October 31st date is likely.
Mr Johnson spoke to Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker by phone on Wednesday and both men later said they would study the British proposals and continue to talk to London about them. He also spoke to German chancellor Angela Merkel.
Mr Juncker welcomed the British plan as a measure of Mr Johnson’s “determination to advance the talks ahead of the October European Council \[SUMMIT] and make progress towards a deal”. EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier told the commission the proposals would be carefully studied and there is no question of rejecting them out of hand. But Brussels sources made clear the British plan would not be the basis for a new deal.
Boris Johnson's letter to Jean-Claude Juncker
Dublin is equally keen not to reject the proposals outright. And Government sources said they are a basis for discussions, though not, in their present form, for an agreement.
After a phone conversation between Mr Varadkar and Mr Johnson on Wednesday night, sources said the Taoiseach had told the British prime minister the proposals “do not fully meet the agreed objectives of the backstop”.
However, Mr Varadkar undertook to “study them in further detail, and consult with the EU institutions, including the task force and our EU partners”.
Mr Johnson’s proposals, sent to Brussels on Wednesday afternoon, would mean Northern Ireland leaving the EU customs union – the bloc’s tariff-free trading area – but remaining aligned with the EU’s single market rules, the bloc’s uniform set of standards, for all goods including manufactured as well as agricultural and food products.
This would mean some checks on products and goods moving between Northern Ireland and the EU, but also customs checks on goods moving across the Border. London says the checks can be mostly conducted electronically, but some checks will still be required – a red line for Dublin.
Earlier in the day, Mr Varadkar repeated his pledge not to accept any deal that entailed checks on goods moving between North and South. He also disputed the assertion by Mr Johnson that such checks would be a “technical” matter.
“I think it’s much more than a technical issue,” he said. “It’s deeply political, it’s legal and the technical aspects are only a small part of it.”
In his closing speech to the Conservative party conference in Manchester, Mr Johnson described his proposal as a compromise for both sides that respects the Belfast Agreement. And he said Britain would leave with no deal if the EU rejects them.