United Kingdom must be able to withdraw from Irish backstop — Liam Fox

Elias Hubbard
November 9, 2018

It comes after a leaked letter from Mrs May to DUP leader Arlene Foster revealed the EU's demands for a Northern Ireland-only backstop if the UK-wide arrangement breaks down.

Mrs Foster said the Prime Minister appeared "wedded to the idea of a border down the Irish Sea" despite Downing Street's assurances to the contrary.

In the leaked letter, the prime minister also told the DUP she "would not accept being kept in a backstop arrangement indefinitely", while it would be "totally unacceptable" for a time limit to the UK-wide backstop arrangement to then simply result in the Northern Ireland-only solution being adopted.

It states that the EU has proposed a contingency plan to keep Northern Ireland tied to Brussels' customs union and single market if future trade talks are unsuccessful.

The letter adds that the constructive engagement strategy of the United Kingdom government's negotiators has not always been reciprocated by the EU.

Brussels has said the United Kingdom will not be able to dissolve the backstop without agreement from the EU.

The EU is insisting its boats must be free to fish in British waters in return for agreeing to Theresa May's UK-wide customs deal.

"Unlike the previous political declarations, the scope for delay, fudge or obscurantist language has passed".

The EU is adamant that there can not be a time limit - any backstop must apply "unless and until" it is no longer needed.

The prime minister has been pushing to agree a UK-wide backstop arrangement, which would see the whole United Kingdom remain in an effective customs union with the EU, after rejecting Brussels' proposal of a Northern Ireland-only solution.

The backstop solution is a safety net - an arrangement to maintain an open border on the island of Ireland in the event that the United Kingdom leaves the European Union without securing an all-encompassing deal.

Arlene Foster says it has "raised alarm bells" as Mrs May appears "wedded to the idea of a border down the Irish Sea".

In her letter, Mrs May wrote that the backstop was "an insurance policy that no-one in the United Kingdom or the European Union wants or expects to use" and that it would not last indefinitely.

Such an inclusion would create severe difficulties for the Mrs May with the DUP as well as with Brexiteers in her own party.

In response to the emergence of the letter, a Downing Street spokesman said: "The prime minister's letter sets out her commitment, which she has been absolutely clear about on any number of occasions, to never accepting any circumstances in which the United Kingdom is divided into two customs territories".

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, Mrs May's effective deputy prime minister David Lidington and Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley will attend a summit on the Isle of Man on Friday.

"The government will not agree anything that brings about a hard border on the island of Ireland".

Brexit is expected to dominate the agenda of the British Irish Council, which also involves the first ministers of Scotland and Wales, Nicola Sturgeon and Carwyn Jones.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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