Beyond the Backstop

Published: 17 January 2019

Brexit is in trouble but not because of the Irish backstop, argues the CCC's Michael Keating. 

Brexit is in trouble but not because of the Irish backstop. The backstop is supposed to be temporary a arrangement to keep the Irish border open. The UK would remain within the customs union and Northern Ireland within single market rules while an overall trade deal is negotiated. Yet only if that future deal also keeps the Irish border open will it be possible to end the backstop. Keeping the border open will still require customs and regulatory harmonization with Europe, whether for the whole of the UK or for Northern Ireland alone. This could mean a ‘Norway plus’ deal, including both the single market and the customs union. Yet withdrawal agreement does not specify with the future relationship. The accompanying political statement is vague and leaves almost all options open. Even if the Government were to get its withdrawal agreement through Parliament, that would mark the beginning and not the end of the negotiations; and there would still be no majority for any particular form of Brexit.