Britain to publish Brexit backstop plan on Thursday
The British government will publish its proposals for a “backstop” plan for the Irish border later on Thursday, sources said, after Prime Minister Theresa May moved to defuse the latest Brexit row, Reuters reports.
May held “constructive” talks with Brexit minister David Davis, her spokeswoman said, after he had raised concerns over the proposal to ensure no return to a hard border between Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland after Brexit.
The row is yet another sign of the difficulty a weakened prime minister is having in driving the negotiation with the EU, struggling to unite not only her cabinet of ministers but her Conservative Party over a strategy that will define Britain’s trading relationship for years to come.
“She had constructive discussions with the Brexit secretary this morning and she also met other cabinet ministers,” the spokeswoman said, adding that May had met trade minister Liam Fox and foreign minister Boris Johnson, who, like Davis, had campaigned for Britain to leave the European Union.
She said the government would publish its backstop proposal and send it to Brussels “shortly”. Government sources said that meant on Thursday.
The decision to publish suggested that a row over the backstop had blown over, but the proposals will be pored over to see whether there has been any compromise to keep Davis on board, after one source suggested he might quit.
When asked whether May expected Davis to still be in post by the end of the day, the spokeswoman said: “Yes.”
The so-called Brexit war committee will meet later on Thursday after Davis, according to one source close to the government, “had gone bananas” over the proposal because it contained no end date.
Pro-Brexit campaigners fear the plan is another step by the prime minister to maintain the closest possible ties to the EU, undermining the clean break with the bloc they are seeking so that Britain can forge new trading relationships with the world.
Davis believed this could mean Britain would stay inside the customs union indefinitely, the source close to the government said. The current proposal would see Britain applying the EU’s external tariffs for a limited period beyond December 2020.
Under the customs union, EU member states trade freely with each other and charge the same duties on imports from outside the bloc. Members of the customs union cannot negotiate their own trade deals with non-members, meaning that leaving the EU heralds the biggest shake-up in British trade for decades.
At the heart of the problem is ensuring there is no hard border between the British province of Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic, which will remain in the EU. Some politicians say any return of border controls could disrupt a peace agreement to reduce sectarian conflict in the north.