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Theresa May's Cabinet agrees on Brexit backstop ending in 2021

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has voiced opposition to any time-limited backstop.

Theresa May's government has submitted its long-awaited proposals.
Theresa May's government has submitted its long-awaited proposals.
Image: PA Images

Updated Jun 7th 2018, 5:16 PM

THE UK GOVERNMENT has proposed that a “backstop” plan to be put in place should there be no Brexit border deal would end in 2021.

The issue had split the UK’s Cabinet with Brexit Minister David Davis favouring an end date and Prime Minister Theresa May favouring a more open-ended approach.

May had suggested that the UK remain in the EU’s  in the customs union until such a time as a solution to the border was reached.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said this morning that any proposal could not be time-limited.

In a proposal document published this afternoon, the UK Cabinet outlined its plans for the backstop, or temporary customs arrangement, and says that it should be “time-limited”.

“The UK is clear that the future customs arrangement needs to deliver on the commitments made in relation to Northern Ireland. The UK expects the future arrangement to be in place by the end of December 2021 at the latest,” the document states.

“There are a range of options for how a time limit could be delivered, which the UK will propose and discuss with the EU.”

Channel 4 reported last night on rumours that Davis was considering resigning over disagreements in Cabinet in relation to the issue but this proposal could end those rumours, at least temporarily.

Brexit Brexit Minister David Davis. Source: Leon Neal/PA Wire

Northern Ireland and the border has emerged as one of the key issues for negotiators in Brexit talks, with all sides insisting that there can be no hard border between the North and the Republic post-Brexit.

The UK has committed to providing technological solutions to the issue of the border. May committed that if the EU did not accept these solutions, a backstop plan would be put in place that would avoid this.

The British proposals have to be agreed by the EU with its chief negotiator Michel Barnier tweeting this afternoon that there are “three questions” that needed to be addressed.

Speaking this morning ahead of the publication of the document, Varadkar also said the proposals must address specific questions.

Does it prevent a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland? Is it all-weather? Which I suppose is a term we use to describe it applying in all circumstances, at least until an alternative can be found. And does it respect the customs union/single market?

An Taoiseach also said that any backstop would have to remain in place until such time that an alternative was found and he said that this makes a time-limit impossible.

“The principal that’s in the existing Irish protocol, the existing backstop which is supported by 27 EU member states including Ireland, is that it implies at least there’s an alternative in place. Until there’s a new arrangement between the EU and UK that prevents a hard border. So it’s not something that can be time limited by a date,” he said.

Speaking this afternoon, Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald TD said she felt it was “decision time” for all parties involved.

“I think it would be very, very dangerous for the Taoiseach to think that he can outwit or outsmart the Tories in London,” she said.

The Tories in London will do the things that suit the Tories in London. Ireland is not on their agenda, so the Taoiseach needs to be firm. I am a bit concerned that at this stage, we are in June, coming towards the European Council meeting and we still don’t have an answer.

McDonald said that she felt it was time for May and Varadkar to set out “in the clearest possible terms what the agreement is, if we have an agreement”.

“If we don’t have an answer in June I think the Taoiseach is absolutely duty bound to hit the pause button and to make it absolutely clear to the British that game-playing, that equivocation, that Alice in Wonderland fairytale thinking is not sufficient.”

With reporting from Cormac Fitzgerald, Christina Finna and Gráinne Ní Aodha

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Rónán Duffy

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