The European Commission’s chief negotiator has said the UK’s proposal of a time-limited backstop will be scrutinised by three simple questions when the document is analysed by negotiators in Brussels.
After a series of tussles between Prime Minister Theresa May and her Brexit Secretary David Davis, Downing Street eventually published the backstop with an aspirational time limit in order to keep Brexiteers happy.
The document reads: “The UK is clear that the temporary customs arrangement, should it be needed, should be time limited, and that it will be only in place until the future customs arrangement can be introduced.
“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. There’re a range of options for how a time limit could be delivered, which the UK will propose and discuss with the EU.”
While Westminster doesn’t include a precise time limit for any potential UK-wide backstop, British negotiators express their desire to strike a deal with Brussels for the inclusion of an end date.
The EU has made clear that a time-limited backstop would likely be unacceptable in the eyes of Brussels’ negotiation team.
An EU official said: “A backstop that would be strictly time-limited would defeat the purpose of a backstop.”
This has left Mr Barnier posing three questions of the British document in his first response to its publication.
Writing on Twitter, the Frenchman said: “I welcome publication of the UK’s proposal oon customs aspects of Ireland and Northern Ireland backstop.
“We will examine it with three questions: Is it a workable solution to avoid a hard border? Does it respect the integrity of the single market and customs union? Is it an all-weather backstop?”
Irish prime minister Leo Varadkar, this morning, said a time-limited backstop would be unacceptable, and has previously promised to vote down the UK’s Brexit withdrawal deal unless it features a satisfactory backstop.
On Monday, Mr Varadkar said: “The principle that is in the existing backstop that is supported by the 27 EU member states is that applies at least until there is an alternative in place.
“It is not something that can be just time-limited, it has to be as they say, ‘all-weather”.
“It has to be applicable until such a time if and when there is a new relationship between the EU and UK that prevents a hard border.”