The UK government has presented a proposal to resolve the Irish border issue post-Brexit. The backstop plan, which would be implemented until 2021, comes after Brexit Secretary David Davis reportedly threatened to quit.
The British government said it was looking forward to negotiating the details of its backstop proposal for the Irish border with EU officials, after it presented its plan on Thursday.
British Prime Minister Theresa May's s fall-back plan would see it remain temporarily aligned with EU customs rules after Brexit until a permanent new trade agreement — that avoids a physical border between Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland — is found.
What are the UK's conditions?
Under the UK's backstop proposal:
Barnier casts doubt over proposal
Following the release of May's backstop proposal, the EU's chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, posted on Twitter that he welcomed the proposal and that his team would "examine it with 3 questions: is it a workable solution to avoid a hard border? Does it respect the integrity of the SM/CU? Is it an all-weather backstop?"
However, Barnier's remarks also suggested that Brussels was not prepared to budge on its own conditions, namely its opposition to any time limit.
Doubts around the proposed timeframe were also raised by Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar and European Parliament spokesman Guy Verhofstadt. "A backstop that is temporary is not a backstop," Verhofstadt tweeted.
The British government nevertheless remained hopeful that it could find a compromise. "What's important now is that we now have a published, agreed piece of government policy," a spokeswoman for May told reporters, adding that the government was "looking forward" to further talks with the EU on Britain's counterproposal.
Read more: 2018: The year of Brexit decisions
Why is Brussels opposed to a time limit? EU officials have been adamant that the backstop cannot have a time limit when there is no guarantee when the negotiations may be concluded. Brussels also fears that Britain could be attempting to renegotiate the transition agreement such that it continues gaining access EU's single market but without being subject to its rules.
Rifts in the PM's Cabinet The UK government's backstop plan came after days of wrangling between officials in May's cabinet over the conditions of a time limit. According to reports, Brexit Minister David Davis even threatened to quit unless May agreed to impose a time limit. Brexiteers fear that without it, the UK would remain aligned to the EU indefinitely.
The current proposal was viewed in some quarters as compromise between Davis and May, but it also points to a weakened prime minister struggling to drive negotiations in Brussels.
The Irish border Both the UK and EU have both committed to avoiding any physical infrastructure dividing Northern Ireland from the Republic where free movement of goods and people is widely seen as crucial to maintaining peace on the island. However, May has struggled to identify how she intends to fulfill this commitment while also delivering on her promise to quit the EU's single market and customs union after Brexit.
Talks to finally resume? After talks stalled weeks ago, negotiations are set to finally resume in the coming days on the UK's backstop plan. The Irish government has said it wants to see "substantial progress" on the border issue by the next EU's leaders' summit, slated for June 22-23.
dm/kms (Reuters, AP, AFP, dpa)