Brexit

Coveney: Time-limited backstop is deal breaker

Tánaiste Simon Coveney told a Brexit event in Galway yesterday that any backstop must be open-ended 

The Irish and British governments are at loggerheads over a time-limited Brexit backstop deal.

Tánaiste Simon Coveney told a Brexit event in Galway yesterday that any backstop must be open-ended.

However, Downing Street has insisted Prime Minister Theresa May would never agree a Brexit deal which “traps” the UK permanently in a customs union.

Mr Coveney said a time-limited backstop was a “deal breaker”.

“We need to insure that we can reassure communities in the island of Ireland that they’re not going to face the corrosive impact of a physical border re-emerging on the island of Ireland, bringing back memories of the past, the requirement of security around border checks and so on,” he said.

“We have 300 road crossings between Ireland and Northern Ireland. It’s a 300 km border.”

The notion of a time-limited backstop was proposed for trade between the UK and EU after Brexit, with an “expected” end in 2021.

It would see the UK match EU trade tariffs temporarily in order to avoid a hard border post-Brexit.

European Commissioner Guenther Oettinger said yesterday that “it does appear possible there will be a breakthrough” at the October 17-18 summit, fuelling speculation that a deal is near on a backstop.

Chancellor Philip Hammond has became the first senior government figure to suggest that the backstop will “probably” have to come into effect for a period.

As officials continued to wrangle over the precise wording of the agreement in Brussels, a Downing Street spokeswoman told a Westminster media briefing: “The prime minister would never agree to a deal which would trap the UK in a backstop permanently.”

The spokeswoman said Mrs May stood by her June proposals, adding: “Our position is that this future economic relationship needs to be in place by the end of December 2021 at the latest.”

But Mr Hammond told Bloomberg TV: “We are not going to remain in anything indefinitely, we are very clear this has to be a temporary period.

“But it is true that there needs to be a period, probably following the transition period that we have negotiated, before we enter into our long-term partnership, just because of the time it will take to implement the systems required,” he said.

“It’s very important to us that business doesn’t have to make two sets of changes, that there will be effectively continuity from the current set-up through the transition period into any temporary period and then a single set of changes when we move into our long-term new economic partnership with the European Union.”

Following Thursday’s meeting of the “inner cabinet” in Downing Street, government chief whip Julian Smith insisted ministers were united behind the PM’s strategy.

However, Westminster was rife with speculation of possible resignations by hardline Brexiteers within the Government.

Earlier, Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey  pointedly refused to endorse the prime minister’s Chequers blueprint for Brexit.

International development secretary Penny Mordaunt and the leader of the commons Andrea Leadsom – who, both backed Leave in the referendum in 2016 – were also said to harbour deep concerns.

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