Britain to insist on a deal by October on an open Border

UK wants a permanent solution to the issue to be included in its withdrawal agreement

Britain’s Brexit minister David Davis (right), with international trade secretary Liam Fox outside 10 Downing Street on Thursday. Photograph: Adrian Dennis/AFP/Getty Images

Britain’s Brexit minister David Davis (right), with international trade secretary Liam Fox outside 10 Downing Street on Thursday. Photograph: Adrian Dennis/AFP/Getty Images

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Britain will insist a permanent solution to keep the Border open is agreed by October and included in its withdrawal agreement to ensure that a backstop arrangement does not last beyond the end of 2021.

Government sources in London said that British negotiators will not agree to a final deal that does not include a permanent, agreed solution for the Border as part of a framework on the future partnership between Britain and the EU that will accompany the withdrawal agreement.

Britain’s proposal for the backstop was published on Thursday after prime minister Theresa May defused a cabinet revolt led by Brexit secretary David Davis by including in the document an end date for the backstop of December 2021, one year after the end of the post-Brexit transition period. Under the British proposal, the backstop would see the entire UK remaining part of the EU customs territory.

“The UK is clear that the temporary customs arrangement, should it be needed, should be time limited, and that it will be only in place until the future customs arrangement can be introduced. The UK is clear that the future customs arrangement needs to deliver on the commitments made in relation to Northern Ireland. 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,” it says.

Indefinitely

Brexiteers fear that the arrangement could mean Britain would remain in the customs union indefinitely, with the EU wielding a veto over when it could leave, but the prime minister’s official spokesperson said the UK would not agree to such an arrangement.

“We’re not going to sign up to anything which means that the EU can hold us in a temporary backstop when our customs arrangements are ready. At the point when new customs arrangements that meet our commitments on Northern Ireland are ready, the backstop must end. But we will talk to the EU about that as part of the wider negotiation on this proposal,” the spokesperson said.

Downing Street insisted that the new proposal was consistent with the commitment Britain made last March that the backstop would remain in place “unless and until” another solution was found for the Border.

Hard border

“The point of the counterproposal is to make sure that if a customs arrangement with the EU is not in place by the end of the implementation period there won’t be a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland and that is fully in tune with what we agreed in March,” the spokesperson said.

“We are not looking to implement the backstop. We are confident that our system will be agreed and in place.”

The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Simon Coveney, who is on a visit to the Middle East, said he would discuss the proposals with the commission negotiating team in the coming days.

He stressed that “substantial progress on the backstop” was needed before the EU summit at the end of this month. “Clearly, a great deal of work remains to be done and this needs to be the highest priority for all sides in the weeks ahead,” he said.

‘Basis to engage’

In Dublin, official sources said that while the British proposals published on Thursday did not constitute sufficient progress in themselves, they provided a basis to engage with the British, which may lead to achieving progress before the summit.

Sources conceded, however, that with only two weeks’ negotiating space left before arrangements to finalise the summit are required, the timetable before the summit is extremely tight. The Irish Government has drawn some encouragement from the fact that the British government was now “engaging” with the issues but believes a fundamental breakthrough is still required in June.

One senior Irish Government source said while it was obvious that greater detail was needed from the British before the end of June, it was important to “keep the show on the road”.

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