EU official says ‘devil in the detail’ of possible UK border plan

DUP rejects Irish Sea checks reportedly being considered in British version of ‘backstop’

The latest UK proposal is viewed on the Irish side as a hybrid version of a previous proposal, tabled by the UK  in June, that would keep the UK aligned with the EU on customs, but for a time-limited period. Photograph: Getty Images

The latest UK proposal is viewed on the Irish side as a hybrid version of a previous proposal, tabled by the UK in June, that would keep the UK aligned with the EU on customs, but for a time-limited period. Photograph: Getty Images

 

A possible UK version of the “backstop” solution to avoid a hard Irish border is “an interesting idea” but “the devil will be in the detail”, an EU official said.

EU negotiators are awaiting a formal proposal from London on the backstop that would become the default option should no trade agreement be reached to maintain a frictionless border between Northern Ireland and the Republic.

British media reported about a possible idea being considered by UK prime minister Theresa May that would keep the UK aligned with EU customs rules after the transition period ends in 2020.

She was also considering accepting an EU proposal that goods entering Northern Ireland from Britain meet EU rules – which would align the North with the Republic and avoid the need for border checks – and that she might agree to checks in the Irish Sea between the North and Britain.

The offer is intended to break the deadlock in Brexit negotiations between the EU and UK on the border issue to guarantee a deal on the withdrawal treaty.

The EU has said that there can be no Brexit treaty without an agreement on the backstop.

The UK proposal is viewed on the Irish side as a hybrid version of a previous proposal, tabled by the British in June, that would keep the UK aligned with the EU on customs, but for a time-limited period.

Opposition

This latest idea goes further, covering rules on goods and food products, but it faces strong political opposition from within Ms May’s party and the DUP, which is keeping her power, as it would limit the UK’s ability to agree trade deals with other countries and would create checks between the North and the UK.

DUP leader Arlene Foster said after meeting Ms May on the fringes of the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham on Tuesday evening that “no border in the Irish Sea will ever be acceptable to unionists throughout the UK...regulatory or otherwise”.

EU officials await a formal proposal from the UK on its backstop plan, which Ms May has promised to provide shortly. A proposal is required if a deal on the withdrawal agreement is to be reached by the next meeting of EU leaders at the European Council summit on October 18th.