By Campaign Agent Matthew Waterfield
Yesterday, Theresa May gave an update to the House of Commons on the ongoing Brexit talks, after talks between Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, and Dominic Raab, the Brexit Secretary, were unsuccessful on Sunday. The briefing comes just two days before the Prime Minister is due in Brussels for a critical two-day European summit, where EU leaders must decide whether sufficient progress is being made in the Brexit talks to hold a concluding summit in November.
The big issue affecting Brexit talks right now is, as always, what to do about Northern Ireland. Politicians on both sides of the table wish to avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, but have different solutions to the issue.
The EU’s solution is the so called ‘backstop’ option, whereby Northern Ireland would remain aligned to the EU’s trade rules. However, the British government is opposed to this, arguing that it would create a virtual border in the Irish Sea, dividing Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK. The DUP in particular is opposed to this solution, saying that it would vote against any deal that risked dividing Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK. Subsequently, Theresa May has proposed a “temporary customs arrangement” which would incorporate the whole of the UK.
This leaves the government with few ways to proceed – it’s torn between the desires of the EU, the DUP, hard Brexiteers, soft Brexiteers, and the bulk of opposition MPs who will almost certainly vote against whatever deal the government reaches.
However, Theresa May today told the House of Commons that a Brexit deal was “still reachable”, reassuring critics that the UK would not be tied permanently to EU custom rules; “I need to be able to look the British people in the eye and say this backstop is a temporary solution.”
This did little to assuage the concerns and objections of the MPs who then questioned her, with not a single one speaking out in favour of her compromise. Boris Johnson asked for confirmation that any backstop would definitely end by December 2021, but May was unable to offer such assurance.
Time is now running out for a deal to be struck, with Britain due to leave the EU in less than 6 months time. Whether or not the government is able to secure a deal in that time, or indeed get the backing of Parliament for said deal, remains to be seen.
Sources and Further Reading
‘Theresa May says Brexit deal still 'achievable' despite differences’, BBC News (15 October 2018)
‘Brexit talks: What is the 'backstop to the backstop'?’, BBC News (15 October 2018)
John Campbell, ‘Q&A: The Irish border Brexit backstop’, BBC News (9 October 2018)
Angus Walker, ‘Summit’s gone wrong as last minute talks between Raab and Barnier fail to seal a deal’, ITV News (14 October 2018)
Dan Sabbagh, ‘Brexit: EU insistence on Northern Ireland backstop unacceptable, May tells MPs’, The Guardian (15 October 2018)
‘May tells MPs UK and EU aren't 'far apart' as she insists UK must be able to terminate Irish backstop - Politics live’, The Guardian (15 October 2018)
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