Brexit: UK seeks postponement of backstop discussion until December 2020

Brexit secretary Stephen Barclay also warns of impact of no-deal on Ireland

The UK’s Brexit secretary Stephen Barclay at a breakfast briefing in Madrid on Thursday. He insisted that that “the alternative to the backstop is not necessary until the end of the implementation period in December 2020”. Photograph: Pierre-Philippe Marcou/AFP/Getty Images

The UK’s Brexit secretary Stephen Barclay at a breakfast briefing in Madrid on Thursday. He insisted that that “the alternative to the backstop is not necessary until the end of the implementation period in December 2020”. Photograph: Pierre-Philippe Marcou/AFP/Getty Images

 

The UK has again demanded that talks on guaranteeing a soft Northern Ireland border be postponed until the end of the withdrawal transition period.

Attacking the EU for its lack of flexibility in the Border discussions, Brexit secretary Stephen Barclay elaborated the case against the backstop while not suggesting any alternative.

He insisted that “the alternative to the backstop is not necessary until the end of the implementation period in December 2020 . . . why risk crystallising an undesirable result this November, when both sides can work together – until December 2020?”

Mr Barclay, who returns to Brussels on Friday to continue talks with the EU’s task force, was speaking to a business audience in Madrid on Friday morning.

Separately, the UK government confirmed that it has provided less formal documents known as “non-papers” to the EU “which reflect the ideas the UK has been putting forward” on how to tackle the vexed issue of the Border after Brexit.

The UK sent three non-papers to Brussels on Thursday evening laying out the government’s position on customs, manufactured goods, and food and livestock.

An EU official said the proposals did not amount to a legally operational alternative to the backstop and were a repetition of the positions laid out by David Frost, Mr Johnson’s chief negotiator.

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A UK government spokesperson said: “We will table formal written solutions when we are ready.”

Insurance policy

The EU has long insisted that it needs the backstop as part of the withdrawal agreement as an insurance policy ahead of and in case discussions on the future relationship during transition are prolonged or do not produce a result that would guarantee a soft border in Ireland.

Mr Barclay repeated prime minister Boris Johnson’s insistence that “the UK wants a deal. Time is short – there are just 42 days until we leave – but it is sufficient for a deal.”

But the backstop “has to go”.

He said there were four reasons: “Northern Ireland . . . would be governed by rules in which they have no say”; “It is inconsistent with the Belfast Agreement because the backstop has failed to achieve the consent of both communities”; “The backstop risks being permanent – even though article 50 legally requires it to be temporary”; and “the EU would control whether we can leave the backstop, making it harder to leave the backstop than leaving the EU itself.”

Mr Barclay said the UK believes that the backstop can be replaced, though without requiring continued membership of either the customs union or the single market.

He warned that the UK would not be alone to suffer in the event of a no deal.

“For example if I take Ireland, two-thirds of Irish medicines come through Great Britain, 40 per cent of its exports go through Dover. Its supermarkets are supplied from distribution centres in the Midlands.

“Yet this is presented as solely a UK challenge – it is a mutual challenge, because if indeed there were 2½ days of delays at Calais, then the impact of that would not solely be felt within the UK, it would be felt in Ireland and indeed in businesses here in Spain. ”

“We are committed to carving out a landing zone,” he said, “and we stand ready to share the relevant text. But it must be in the spirit of negotiation – with flexibility, and with a negotiating partner that is willing to compromise,” he said, insisting that the EU has not shown such flexibility.

“It was General De Gaulle, who said ‘a true statesman is one who is willing to take risks’. Yet a refusal by the [European] Commission to accept any risk would be a failure of statecraft.” – Additional reporting Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2019

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