- Downing Street has published the details of a “backstop” proposal to avoid a hard Irish border after Brexit.
- The “backstop” is an emergency measure which would ensure no hard border emerges between Northern Ireland and Ireland.
- Brexit secretary David Davis had two long meetings with the prime minister this morning after allies made it clear he was threatening to resign over plans to allow the backstop to be unlimited.
LONDON — Theresa May has agreed to keep Britain tied to EU customs rules for a “time limited” period after Brexit, following threats by her Brexit Secretary David Davis to resign.
The government on Thursday published detailed plans for a so-called “temporary customs arrangement” with the EU. It would temporarily align the UK with the EU customs union when the Brexit transition period ends in December 2020, taking effect if both sides failed to reach a customs agreement before then.
According to the text published by the government, UK negotiators will seek a “time limited” backstop which the UK “expects” to “end by December 2021 at the latest.”
However, the text acknowledges that this will be subject to negotiation with the EU, where officials have already made it clear that any backstop cannot be time limited.
According to the government’s negotiating plan:
“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 are a range of options for how a time limit could be delivered, which the UK will propose and discuss with the EU.
The plan is an emergency measure to ensure that no border controls emerge between Northern Ireland and Ireland as a consequence of the UK leaving the customs union. The EU will not formally ratify the transition deal without reaching an agreement on the details of the backstop plan.
The final text was agreed after a series of meetings on Thursday morning between May, Davis and other senior members of her Cabinet.
Allies of Davis hailed the text as a victory for the Brexit Secretary, who had pushed for a firm commitment to a time limit on any Brexit backstop. However, the text stops short of such a commitment.
Downing Street says it does not expect to use the proposals because it will come up with workable new customs proposals before December 2020 but is yet to indicate how those arrangements would work.
The details of the plan have caused consternation among May’s Cabinet. Brexit secretary David Davis reportedly threatened to resign in protest at the proposals because they do not contain a specific end date, which he worries could keep the UK tied to the EU indefinitely.
The Times also reported that other Brexit-supporting ministers believed May had “deceived” them by keeping them in the dark about the backstop document. She reportedly shared it with Remain-supporting Cabinet ministers over the weekend, days before it was presented to Eurosceptic minister Boris Johnson, Liam Fox, and Michael Gove.
Asked about his reported threat to resign yesterday, Davis said his position “was a question for the prime minister, to be honest.”
“It would be improper of me to pre-empt the negotiation there, but I suspect it will be fairly decisive tomorrow,” he added.