Theresa May narrowly survives another Brexit crisis with “backstop plan” on customs

Anca Alexe 08/06/2018 | 10:42

Theresa May managed to survive another Brexit-related political crisis on Thursday, despite still being unable to satisfy neither the hardliners in her own Cabinet and Conservative party nor the officials of the European Union, Bloomberg writes.

Theresa May is facing pressure from her Cabinet and a difficult relationship with her euroskeptic Brexit Secretary David Davis, who was reportedly thinking of quitting in protest at May’s plans for the UK’s future tariff regime. May proposed an open-ended commitment to stay in European customs rules in order to avoid a hard border with Ireland.

May and Davis met twice and the Brexit Secretary claimed he convinced her to insert and end date to the plan so that the UK would not be forever bound by EU trade law. However, the actual proposal didn’t really include a firm end-date – only an aspiration that it “should be” time limited. Davis still claimed a victory, but other Brexit hardliners in the Conservative party were not satisfied. May’s proposal came to be known as the backstop option, which doesn’t really address many of the issues May’s cabinet and EU officials are concerned about.

In essence, the Guardian explains, the UK’s backstop or fallback proposal is for the whole of the UK to remain in the customs union for a limited period after the end of the transition period – so it would leave the EU in March 2019 and the single market in December 2020, but stay in the customs union for a while longer. The idea is “to apply a temporary customs arrangement … between the UK and the EU” that would allow the UK to sign free trade deals with other countries (but not implement the parts of them relating to tariffs, rendering them largely pointless). The proposed UK backstop “will only be in place until the future customs arrangement can be introduced”, which the government “expects” to be the end of December 2021 at the latest.

May refused to give a “cast-iron guarantee” that the cut-off date for the backstop plan would not extend beyond December 2021, but said that the government expects to have a better customs arrangement in place by then “at the very latest”.

“I am very concerned that by the time we have negotiated this with the EU we will have a never-ending vassal state status,” said Conservative Brexiteer Nigel Mills.

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said at a private dinner that there’s a risk of a Brexit “meltdown”, but that no one should panic over it.


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