Brexit and backstop arrangements


Sir, – Substantial differences remain to be overcome if the UK is to conclude a withdrawal agreement with the EU. However, it is incorrect to maintain that the UK “has rejected the EU’s draft protocol on the backstop” (“Brexit: May and allies stick with Chequers plan”, September 7th).

As the June 2018 joint statement of the UK and the European Commission negotiators made clear, “both Parties agree the scope of the draft Protocol reflects the issues that require legally operative agreed text in the Withdrawal Agreement”.

Indeed, important elements of the draft protocol, notably on the Common Travel Area and maintaining North-South cooperation, have been agreed. Other elements, including on the rights of individuals, the single electricity market and state aid, have been agreed in principle. Importantly, the UK has also joined the EU in recognising that “the backstop on Ireland/Northern Ireland requires provisions in relation to customs and regulatory alignment”.

What the UK has rejected – so far at least – is the EU’s proposed backstop arrangements that would keep Northern Ireland in the EU “customs territory”and establish, in respect of specific sectors, a “common regulatory area” between Northern Ireland and the EU. On these issues, significant differences between the UK and the EU still need to be bridged if a “no deal” Brexit is to be avoided.

However, we should acknowledge that at least some progress has been made on the protocol, even if the absence of further progress in recent months remains a major cause for concern. – Yours, etc,


Professor of

European Politics,

Faculty of Arts,

Humanities and

Social Sciences,

Queen’s University Belfast.