Brussels dismisses May’s latest suggestion on the Irish border as ‘very complicated’ and postponing a real solution 

  • May suggested using the ‘backstop’ plan on Ireland for a limited time after 2020
  • But Brussels has declared this would be ‘very complicated’ and unacceptable 
  • Britain’s latest suggestion has been dismissed before being formally presented 
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Brussels has dismissed Theresa May’s (pictured in Maidenhead on Sunday) latest proposal for resolving the Irish border and unlocking the Brexit talks before it has been formally presented

Brussels has dismissed Theresa May’s latest proposal for resolving the Irish border and unlocking the Brexit talks before it has been formally presented, it was claimed today.

The Prime Minister has suggested using the so-called ‘back stop’ solution for Northern Ireland – which would involve the UK mirroring EU rules – from the end of transition but for a limited time only.

The idea is to allow Britain to eventually create rules and customs systems different from those imposed by Brussels but with enough time to implement them.

But the EU believes the idea would only postpone negotiations on a final settlement to maintain the open Irish border, Politico revealed today. 

EU officials think the backstop should be a permanent solution if it is implemented. 

The latest impasse comes just weeks before the next European Council in June, which is meant to demonstrate progress on a border solution.

EU officials are determined to only negotiate the substance of a UK-EU trade deal after a satisfactory position on Ireland is concluded.

An exit deal and political agreement on trade is due to be finalised by October.

But responding to reports of Mrs May’s time-limited backstop, a senior EU official told Politico: ‘It would be a very, very complicated thing to negotiate.

‘I really don’t see how you get there.’ 

Mrs May broadly secured backing from her Cabinet, senior Brexiteers and the DUP for the latest proposal following weeks of bitter wrangling – on the condition it was a short term fix.

Cruically the plan would mean keeping the UK aligned with customs tariffs rates in Brussels after the Brexit transition expires on December 31, 2020, if the final deal is not fully in place.  

The latest impasse comes just weeks before the next European Council in June, which is meant to demonstrate progress on a border solution (file image of one of the border crossings) 

But the EU negotiators (led by Michel Barnier, file image) believe the idea would only postpone negotiations on a final settlement to maintain the open Irish border

Ministers remain split over which final plan for the Northern Ireland border to adopt.

Brexiteers including Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson support the ‘maximum facilitation’ scheme – known as Max Fac – which would use trusted trader arrangements and technology like number plate recognition cameras to avoid the need for border checks

The Prime Minister supports a ‘customs partnership’ where the UK collects tariffs on behalf of the EU.

Brussels has already rejected both models as unworkable.  

The backstop was devised as an alternative to the European Commission proposal that Northern Ireland should remain in the customs union if no better resolution for the border issue can be found.

This Brussels backstop was roundly rejected by Mrs May as something no British PM could sign up to, as it effectively draws a customs border down the Irish Sea. 

What are the options for the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic after Brexit?

Theresa May and Jean-Claude Juncker agreed the outline of a divorce deal in December

Theresa May and the EU effectively fudged the Irish border issue in the Brexit divorce deal before Christmas.

But the commitments to leave the EU customs union, keep a soft border, and avoid divisions within the UK were always going to need reconciling at some stage. Currently 110million journeys take place across the border every year.

All sides in the negotiations insist they want to avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic, but their ideas for how the issues should be solved are very different.

If they fail to strike a deal it could mean a hard border on the island – which could potentially put the Good Friday Agreement at risk.

The agreement – struck in 1998 after years of tense negotiations and a series of failed ceasefires – brought to an end decades of the Troubles.

More than 3,500 people died in the ‘low level war’ that saw British Army checkpoints manning the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland. 

Both London and Dublin fear reinstalling a hard border – whether by checkpoints or other means – would raise tensions and provoke a renewal of extremism or even violence if people and goods were not able to freely cross.

The DUP – which opposed the Good Friday Agreement – is determined to maintain Northern Ireland inside the UK at all costs, while also insisting it wants an open border. 

The UK blueprint:

The PM has made clear her favoured outcome for Brexit is a deep free trade deal with the EU.

The UK side has set out two options for how the border could look.

One would see a highly streamlined customs arrangement, using a combination of technology and goodwill to minimise the checks on trade.

There would be no entry or exit declarations for goods at the border, while ‘advanced’ IT and trusted trader schemes would remove the need for vehicles to be stopped.

Boris Johnson has suggested that a slightly ‘harder’ border might be acceptable, as long as it was invisible and did not inhibit flow of people and goods.

However, critics say that cameras to read number plates would constitute physical infrastructure and be unacceptable.

The second option has been described as a customs partnership, which would see the UK collect tariffs on behalf of the EU – along with its own tariffs for goods heading into the wider British market.

However, this option has been causing deep disquiet among Brexiteers who regard it as experimental. They fear it could become indistinguishable from actual membership of the customs union, and might collapse.

Brussels has dismissed both options as ‘Narnia’ – insisting no-one has shown how they can work with the UK outside an EU customs union.

The EU blueprint:

The divorce deal set out a ‘fallback’ option under which the UK would maintain ‘full alignment’ with enough rules of the customs union and single market to prevent a hard border and protect the Good Friday Agreement.

The inclusion of this clause, at the demand of Ireland, almost wrecked the deal until Mrs May added a commitment that there would also be full alignment between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK. 

But the EU has now translated this option into a legal text – and hardened it further to make clear Northern Ireland would be fully within the EU customs union.

Mrs May says no Prime Minister could ever agree to such terms, as they would undermine the constitutional integrity of the UK.

A hard border:

Neither side wants a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic. 

But they appear to be locked in a cyclical dispute, with each adamant the other’s solutions are impossible to accept.

If there is no deal and the UK and EU reverts to basic World Trade Organisation (WTO) relationship, theoretically there would need to be physical border posts with customs checks on vehicles and goods.

That could prove catastrophic for the Good Friday Agreement, with fears terrorists would resurface and the cycle of violence escalate.

Many Brexiteers have suggested Britain could simply refuse to erect a hard border – and dare the EU to put up their own fences. 

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