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Dublin: 4°C Wednesday 20 January 2021

Brexit - UK seeking previously unthought of 'third way' around the Northern Ireland customs border impasse

Theresa May’s cabinet is in open revolt over the current proposition – hence the need to find another approach that keeps everyone (sort of) happy.

Britain Turkey Theresa May Source: Matt Dunham/PA Images

THE UNITED KINGDOM is reportedly set to throw its diplomatic weight behind a previously-unthought of third option for solving the conundrum of the Irish border post-Brexit.

British prime minister Theresa May faces a cabinet that is in open revolt against plans for a so-called ‘backstop’ border solution – one which would see the UK in full customs alignment with the EU in order to maintain an open border between Northern Ireland and the Republic.

RTÉ this morning reports that the UK has come up with an unexpected third solution to the impasse – by taking the infamous paragraph 49 (that which gave rise to the idea of a backstop in the first place) of last December’s draft Brexit agreement literally.

At present May is caught between the rock of hardcore Brexiteers in her own party who don’t wish for Northern Ireland to be given special status in negotiations, and the hard place of the EU itself which is unlikely to grant exemptions that the UK would find desirable in order to get Brexit over the line with an actual deal in place.

Paragraph 49 states that in the absence of any other deal to avoid a hard border (hence the backstop nature of things), the UK would ‘maintain full alignment’ with the EU on trade in the spirit of supporting ‘north-south cooperation’.

By taking that paragraph literally, ie by aligning the entirety of the UK with the EU for an undetermined period of time, the British government hopes to, temporarily at least, remove the controversy surrounding the backstop deal.

RTÉ also reports sources that state such a deal would be acceptable to both the UK and the EU, with strict conditions.

Meanwhile, May has announced plans to publish a Brexit white paper, setting out her priorities for Britain’s future relationship with the EU, ahead of next month’s crucial Brussels summit on the Brexit situation.

Up until now the prime minister has avoided committing to which Brexit border arrangements she will back.

With the publication of this 100-page white paper, which was signed off at cabinet this morning, it’s expected that she will finally descend from that particular fence.

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