Theresa May Hatches 'Secret' Brexit Customs Deal With Brussels

Rupa Haq MP Trevor Phillips Ayesha Hazarika Neema Begum and Sunder Katwala at the Queen Mary panel. Credit Jonathan Cole

Rupa Haq MP Trevor Phillips Ayesha Hazarika Neema Begum and Sunder Katwala at the Queen Mary panel. Credit Jonathan Cole

The thorny issue of the border between Ireland and the British province of Northern Ireland could sink the negotiations on Britain's exit from the European Union, the EU's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier said on Friday (19 October).

The agreement would avoid the need for an Irish backstop - which has left Britain and Brussels deadlocked - and would stop Northern Ireland being treated differently to the rest of the UK.

"The prime minister raised the possibility of a review mechanism for the backstop", it said.

However, Mr Varadkar also commented that the outcome of any such review "could not involve a unilateral decision to end the backstop".

While European Council President Donald Tusk said in September that an extraordinary summit would be called for November 17-18 to finalize and formalize the EU-UK arrangement if sufficient progress in talks was reached, the EU leaders are now not planning this extraordinary summit.

Asked about the government's position on the Irish backstop, the spokesman said: "The position that we have set out is we don't want the backstop to be in place indefinitely and we will be looking to a mechanism to achieve that".

A Downing Street spokesman described Mrs May's conversation with Mr Varadkar as "constructive", adding: "They agreed that the intention was that the backstop should only be a temporary arrangement and that the best solution to the Northern Ireland border would be found by agreeing a future relationship between the United Kingdom and the EU".

The Sunday Times said May's cabinet would meet on Tuesday to discuss her plan and that she hoped there would be enough progress by Friday for the European Union to announce a special summit.




Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald has urged the Irish premier to stand firm over a proposed backstop plan to prevent a hard border in Ireland after Brexit.

Under the EU's proposal, Northern Ireland would remain in the customs union and in the single market for goods.

"So, we think there's a deal to be had if they recognise that the deal is unacceptable to Parliament, I think that opens up a vista of the opportunity of the real negotiations".

A Downing Street spokeswoman added: "The Prime Minister is clear we are leaving the customs union".

A spokesman for Tánaiste Simon Coveney said: "The Tánaiste and Dominic Raab had a robust but respectful meeting in London last Tuesday evening".

Coveney's message quickly won endorsement from the EU's deputy Brexit negotiator, Sabine Weyand, who reacted by saying: "Still necessary to repeat this, it seems".

However, if these Brexiteers are not convinced that the customs union is only a temporary measure they would nearly certainly rebel.

Here, Labour leader Brendan Howlin said he remained "very fearful" Irish interests could be sacrificed by Europe to secure a deal and said Ireland has to be "vigilant".

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