UK will not renege on backstop commitment, says Bradley

Northern Secretary claims government plans to stick to December agreement over Border

The British government will not allow a border to be put in place on the island of Ireland "in any situation" Northern Secretary Karen Bradley has told British and Irish parliamentarians.

Ms Bradley said Theresa May's government stands by its commitment to a backstop to guarantee that there would be no hard border after Brexit. Ms Bradley told the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly in London that the British government was considering a proposal to extend the post-Brexit transition period which is due to end in December 2020.

“A suggestion has been put forward last week at the European Council regarding an extension of the implementation period as a way to deal with the Border,” she said.

“Now, we are looking at that. It is early days. It is a suggestion that has been put forward by the EU. And I want to be clear that we are committed to everything that we have agreed to in the joint report and we will ensure that there is no border on the island of Ireland.”


The Northern Secretary reiterated, however, the British government’s rejection of a Northern Ireland-only backstop that would create a customs barrier in the Irish Sea.

"There are two communities in Northern Ireland, and much of what the European Union has put forward in terms of suggestions around the backstop are not acceptable to the unionist community in Northern Ireland, and they aren't acceptable to the British Government, so that's why we are working to find a backstop that works for everyone," she said.

Issue of trust

Irish ambassador to Britain Adrian O’Neill said the backstop had become an issue of trust in the Brexit negotiations and he made clear that it would be necessary even if the transition period was extended.

“So in the Withdrawal Agreement, we must have a durable, workable and legally operable backstop that guarantees that there will be no hard border on the island of Ireland. Should this require the possibility of extending the 21-month transition period by a further brief time, Ireland would agree to such an extension. However, this would not obviate the need for a legally sound backstop arrangement to be included in the Withdrawal Agreement,” he said.

At the weekend the Brexit secretary, Dominic Raab, suggested the EU and Britain would need to choose between extending the Brexit transition period and a time-limited backstop to avoid a hard border in Ireland.

A backstop is required to ensure there is no hard border in Ireland if a comprehensive free trade deal cannot be signed before the end of 2020.

Minister of State for European Affairs Helen McEntee told The Irish Times on Sunday evening that if London reneged on the backstop then agreements already reached on citizens' rights and the so-called divorce bill could be reopened.

“I don’t think in terms of the negotiation that you can go back and undo something that has been agreed on both sides and sets a new red line on something that has been already agreed in negotiations. I don’t think anyone can or should be able to do that,” she said. Additional reporting: Guardian

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton is China Correspondent of The Irish Times