UK ministers to meet to hammer out agreement on Brexit backstop

07 June 2018 - 14:14 By Reuters
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Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May.
Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May.
Image: AFP PHOTO / Tolga AKMEN. File photo.

Senior members of the British government will try on Thursday to agree a "backstop" plan for the Irish border when Britain leaves the European Union (EU) following reports that the Brexit minister opposes the current proposal.

Ten months before Britain is due to leave the EU, Prime Minister Theresa May is struggling to unite her government over the backstop plan. This arrangement is intended to keep Britain tied to the bloc's customs union after a transition period should there be a delay in implementing a final Brexit deal that has yet to be reached with Brussels.

Pro-Brexit campaigners say 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.

The so-called Brexit war committee was expected to meet on Thursday after Brexit minister David Davis, according to one source close to the government, "had gone bananas" over the proposal because it contained no end date.

He believed this could mean Britain would stay inside the customs union indefinitely, the source 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.

The source close to the government and some local media said Davies was considering whether to resign.


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.

Davis has not commented directly on the source-based reports of his anger. He said on Wednesday the backstop proposal was still being discussed but he expected a decisive conclusion to the talks on Thursday.

Time is pressing in the Brexit talks, which have all but stalled as May tries to overcome the divisions not only among her ministers but also in her Conservative Party.

She has tried to persuade doubters that she never intended to use the backstop plan as she hoped to agree a workable deal with the EU on future customs arrangements.

But the government has yet to decide on its preferred customs option, unable as yet to overcome differences of opinion in the cabinet.

One pro-Brexit campaigner said the fear was the backstop plan would put Britain "in purgatory", essentially still in the EU's customs union indefinitely. "It's surrender," the campaigner said. 

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