What is the Irish backstop and why is it blocking Brexit?

What is the Irish backstop and why is it blocking Brexit?

- in Usa News

THE prime minister says that any new Brexit withdrawal agreement should not include the infamous Irish backstop.

But what is the backstop and why has it been such a sticking point?

The Irish border is at the heart of Brexit negotiations, as the UK and EU attempt to bash out a deal
Getty Images – Getty

What is the Irish backstop?

The Irish backstop is essentially a safety net that would prevent the reintroduction of a hard border on the island of Ireland after Brexit.

Under the agreement negotiated by Theresa May, the UK would enter a transition period after officially leaving the EU during which it would remain a member of the body’s economic zones, namely the single market and the customs union.

This would give the government time to agree the details of our new trading relationship with the European Union and businesses time to adjust with minimal disruption.

The backstop would only come into effective were the transition period to end before all the details of the new relationship had been worked out.

In the event the backstop came into force, Northern Ireland would remain a member of the single market until a trade agreement had been reached to keep the border effectively invisible.

That would mean goods crossing the Irish border would not be subject to checks for customs or product standards.

The whole of the UK would also remain in a common customs territory with the EU, meaning there would be no “tariffs, quotas, rules of origin or customs processes” applied to UK-EU trade.

The arrangement would keep the Northern Irish border open and minimise economic damage, but would also mean the UK would temporarily have to go on following the EU’s rules and regulations without having a say in deciding them.

Why is it blocking Brexit?

The near-invisibility of the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland was a major achievement of the peace process that brought the Troubles to an end.

Communities on both sides of the border worry that the return of border checks could revive social, cultural, and religious divides that have been fading in recent decades.

During the Brexit negotiations, the European Union listened to the Irish government’s about what the return of a hard border would mean, and has insisted that any withdrawal agreement should include a backstop.

The backstop became a major sticking point when Theresa May was trying to get parliament to back the withdrawal agreement she had negotiated.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson gives a thumbs up sign after meeting the First Minister of Wales Mark Drakeford
Getty Images – Getty

Why has the Irish backstop been controversial?

Many Conservatives MPs refused to vote for Theresa May’s deal because, were the backstop ever to come into force, it would have left the UK without a vote in deciding the EU’s rules and regulations but still temporarily subject to them.

The DUP, a Northern Irish unionist party that currently has 10 MPs in the House of Commons, refused to accept the backstop because it could’ve left Northern Ireland in a different customs arrangement to the rest of the UK.

It was also feared that the backstop could remain in place indefinitely, which could make it difficult for the UK to strike its own trade deals with other countries outside the EU.

Boris Johnson twice voted against Theresa May’s deal in parliament, in part because he objected to the backstop, but decided to back it the third time May put it before the Commons.

He repeated his criticism of the backstop while running for the Conservative leadership, and since becoming prime minister has said he would not agree a deal that included a backstop.

He has said the backstop could be replaced by alternative arrangements to avoid the need for physical checks on the Irish border, though hasn’t specified what those arrangements would be.

What’s next?

The PM ruled out a Northern Ireland only backstop during People’s PMQs on September 11.

He “would not accept” any form of backstop in talks with the bloc because it “simply doesn’t work for the UK”.

It came after Phil Hogan said the “penny had dropped” after he suggested an “all-Ireland” farming market after our divorce from the bloc.

The prime minister has repeatedly said the UK will leave the EU on October 31 with or without a deal, but that he hopes to secure a deal.

However, MPs voted to block a No Deal on September 3, meaning the UK will have to extend the deadline again if a deal cannot be agreed upon by October 31.

Johnson suspended Parliament until October 14, which the Scottish courts have ruled as unlawful.

The case will go before the Supreme Court next week.

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