Northern Ireland′s David Trimble to take UK government to court over backstop | News | DW | 04.02.2019
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Northern Ireland's David Trimble to take UK government to court over backstop

Trimble, who won the Nobel Prize for his role in the Good Friday Agreement, said he would mount a legal fight against the Irish backstop. The Chief EU negotiator said the measure remained the "only solution" for Brexit.

Northern Ireland's former First Minister, David Trimble, announced on Monday that he would take the UK government to court over the Irish border backstop clause in the Brexit deal hammered out by British Prime Minister Theresa May and the EU. 

"The Nobel Peace Prize winner and architect of the Good Friday Agreement plans to initiate judicial review proceedings to ensure that the Protocol is removed from the Withdrawal Agreement," a spokesman for Trimble said.

He says the backstop violates the 1998 Good Friday Agreement and called for an interim free trade agreement with specific "customs and trade facilitation, to deliver an "invisible and compliant border in Ireland..." as set out in a paper last month by Conservative pro-Brexit lawmakers.

Many in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland are worried that an indefinite backstop could unpick the carefully crafted provisions for North-South cooperation set out in the 1998 Belfast Agreement.

Trimble —  former member of the Ulster Unionist party who switched to the Conservative party — won the Nobel peace prize in 1998, along with Catholic Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) leader John Hume, for his efforts to bring peace to the region after decades of conflict.

David Trimble (left) and John Hume won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1998 for their work to bring peace in Northern Ireland

David Trimble (left) and John Hume won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1998 for their contribution to the peace process

British lawmakers have so far refused to ratify the current Withdrawal Agreement due to the so-called Irish backstop, which would keep the border open and maintain the current trade relationship with the EU during a transition period.

Read more: Brexit: Why is the Irish backstop so controversial?

Backstop 'only operational solution'

But the EU has so far rejected British calls to renegotiate the agreement and has defended the backstop. Brussels believes that by avoiding customs posts or physical barriers peace can be maintained in the Irish frontier, which often witnessed violence during Northern Ireland's "Troubles" (1969-1998).

Chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier reiterated this position on Monday, saying that the Irish backstop was the "only operational solution" to an orderly Brexit.

Read more: The draft Brexit deal — what you need to know

In a tweet after meeting Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte in The Hague, Barnier said that he and Rutte were in "full agreement that the Withdrawal Agreement cannot be reopened."

"We need this backstop because it is the only insurance to avoid a hard border at the moment. But we are ready, during the transition, if we have a transition, to work on the alternative arrangements," Barnier said.

Merkel: 'Creativity' is needed

The EU's most powerful leader, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, added weight to the bloc's position on Monday, saying she also did not want a renegotiation of the Withdrawal Agreement, but also said that the impasse could be solved.

"There are definitely options for preserving the integrity of the single market, even when Northern Ireland isn't part of it because it is part of the UK, while at the same time meeting the desire to have, if possible, no border controls," Merkel said.

Read more: Brexit deal: What Germany wants, what Theresa May can get

On the backstop question, Merkel said the issues could be ironed out in the so-called political agreement that outlines future relations and accompanies the Brexit deal.

"We need to show creativity, we need to listen to each other," she said. "We can still use the time to come to an agreement over the things that are standing in our way, if everyone shows goodwill," she said.

jcg/ng (Reuters, AP)

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