Brexit

Brexit: Tories need to 'table own backstop'

The Institute for Government says the Irish border is the 'biggest roadblock' on the way to an EU withdrawal agreement. Picture by David Young, Press Association

THE British government needs to table its own version of the Irish border 'backstop' in order for Brexit negotiations to proceed, an influential think tank has said.

Ahead of a crunch European Council summit at the end of this month, a paper from the Institute for Government (IfG) found that despite the UK government’s stated commitment to avoiding a hard border, little progress has been made in finding a workable long-term solution.

The so-called backstop is the EU's default position in the event of no agreement. It would see Northern Ireland fully aligned with the rules of the European internal market and the customs union.

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The options being considered before the backstop comes into play are a new overall EU-UK relationship or specific solutions to address the unique circumstances of the island of Ireland.

However, the report notes that details on these two proposals are scarce.

Simon Coveney warned of an 'uncertain summer' if there is no progress on agreeing the ‘backstop’ arrangement. Picture by Stephen Davison, Pacemaker

Tánaiste Simon Coveney warned at the weekend of an “uncertain summer” if there was no progress on agreeing the backstop arrangement to prevent a hard border in the event of trade talks failing.

The IfG report says the UK government must now set out its own proposal ahead of the European Council gathering.

It says a UK-wide version of the backstop, in which certain EU rules areas apply to both Britain and Northern Ireland, would avoid a 'border in the Irish Sea' scenario.

The think tank says agreeing a plan would also save Whitehall and business the time and money they would otherwise spend preparing for a ‘no deal’ scenario.

But the report warns that the UK cannot let the backstop become the end of negotiations on the border. Instead, the proposed UK-wide proposal must incentivise both sides to negotiate something better for the long term.

"The Irish border issue is preoccupying minds now as it is the biggest roadblock on the way to a withdrawal agreement," the report says.

"But negotiators on both sides will not be able to regard the issue as solved by whatever compromise emerges in the autumn: both will need to take full account of the Irish dimension as they negotiate a sustainable long-term relationship between the UK and the EU."

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