Theresa May and her party in elaborate game of make-believe

Viewed from Brussels, every part of the Malthouse compromise is out of the question

British prime minister Theresa May has tasked attorney general Geoffrey Cox to formulate proposals to introduce a time limit or a unilateral exit mechanism to the backstop. Photograph: Andy Rain/EPA

British prime minister Theresa May has tasked attorney general Geoffrey Cox to formulate proposals to introduce a time limit or a unilateral exit mechanism to the backstop. Photograph: Andy Rain/EPA

 

Theresa May arrives in Northern Ireland on Tuesday as her government is engaged in an elaborate game of make-believe with its own MPs over Brexit and the Border.

After the first of at least three meetings with backbenchers this week, a spokesman for Brexit secretary Stephen Barclay said they had “detailed and constructive” discussions aimed at finding common ground on the backstop.

The common ground favoured by the backbenchers has been mapped out in the so-called Malthouse compromise, which calls for the backstop to be replaced by a tariff-free trade area with maximum facilitation of customs. If the EU is unable to accede to this change, the Malthouse compromisers propose a three-year transition period while London and Brussels renegotiate the withdrawal agreement.

The prime minister has also tasked attorney general Geoffrey Cox to formulate proposals to introduce a time limit or a unilateral exit mechanism to the backstop.

Viewed from Brussels, every part of the Malthouse compromise is out of the question, from its attempt to reheat rejected ideas for technological border solutions to the demand for a standstill transition without a withdrawal agreement.

BREXIT: The Facts

Read them here

Time limit

The EU has also rejected a time limit and a unilateral exit mechanism for the backstop but could be open to offering legally binding assurances that do not require a renegotiation of the text of the withdrawal agreement.

Eurosceptic Conservative MP Steve Baker warned on Sunday that he and his Brexiteer allies would reject any compromise with the EU that did not involve replacing the backstop with the Malthouse compromise.

This reinforced the view in Brussels that the majority of MPs who voted to back the Brexit deal if the backstop is changed was a freak majority that May will be unable to sustain.

This means that when the prime minister presents her proposals to the EU in the coming days, she is unlikely to find any appetite for compromise on the other side.

Amendments

Instead, the EU will wait until after MPs vote on February 14th on a number of amendments, probably including one that could oblige May’s government to delay Brexit rather than leave without a deal on March 29th.

Such an outcome will lead the prime minister into another negotiation with Brussels, this time about the duration and terms of any extension of the article 50 deadline.

There is no incentive for the EU to either make any changes to the backstop before then or to indulge the wilder ideas emerging from the Conservative backbenches.

Borderlands

A special investigation on Brexit & the Border Read More
The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.