May must devise version of Brexit backstop option, says think-tank

Institute for Government says UK’s border ideas not fleshed out and unacceptable to EU

 Prime minister Theresa May: she needs to table something on Brexit border that could work, meets commitments, and is politically acceptable. Photograph: Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images

Prime minister Theresa May: she needs to table something on Brexit border that could work, meets commitments, and is politically acceptable. Photograph: Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images

 

Theresa May should propose her own version of the Brexit backstop option for the Border ahead of this month’s EU summit in Brussels, according to an influential London think-tank.

The Institute for Government’s report The Irish Border after Brexit says that while the UK has begun to propose future arrangements on issues like customs that could help avoid a hard border, they are not fully fleshed out and are unacceptable to the EU.

“The UK has made it clear that the EU version of the backstop is unacceptable. But the government has not, so far, put forward draft language of its own. It needs to – and it needs to make clear that it is not trying to shirk the commitments it entered into in December. With no other workable proposition yet identified, let alone agreed, it needs to table something that could work, meets those commitments, and is politically acceptable,” the report says.

The UK could, for example, try reducing coverage to key sectors for cross-Border trade and try negotiating equivalence in specific areas

British officials have floated the possibility of a backstop that would apply to the whole of the UK, keeping it aligned with the EU on customs and regulations for goods. EU negotiators insist, however, that the proposed backstop can only apply to Northern Ireland.

‘Innovative solutions’

“If it sticks to that line, the UK and the EU will need to explore the promised ‘innovative solutions’ either for the North – or the whole island of Ireland – that are both compatible with the joint report and do not upset the delicate unionist-nationalist balance of the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement.

“The UK could, for example, try reducing coverage to key sectors for cross-Border trade and try negotiating equivalence in specific areas – whereby the EU would accept that the UK was meeting the same outcomes but by different means. It could also propose that the backstop was overseen by whatever governance process is agreed for the Withdrawal Agreement rather than the EU institutions as now. The aim would be to remove the implication that Northern Ireland was separated from the rest of the UK and had become part of the EU’s customs territory and regulatory jurisdiction,” the report says.

With EU officials warning that little progress has been made ahead of this month’s summit, government whips told Conservative MPs on Monday that the House of Commons would vote next week on amendments passed in the House of Lords to the EU Withdrawal Bill.