Northern Ireland news

Tory leadership contenders' Brexit backstop policy

The 10 contenders in the Conservative leadership race (top row, left to right) Boris Johnson, Dominic Raab, Jeremy Hunt, Rory Stewart, Mark Harper, (bottom row, left to right) Esther McVey, Matt Hancock, Andrea Leadsom, Michael Gove, and Sajid Javid. Picture by PA

MOST Tory leadership contenders are proposing changes to the Brexit backstop.

The much-disputed arrangement was aimed at guaranteeing no hard border in Ireland if no alternative plan is agreed between the UK and European Union.

Many Conservative Brexiteers feared it would "trap" the UK in the EU, while the DUP did not want Northern Ireland treated differently to Britain.

However, the EU has insisted it will not reopen the proposed withdrawal agreement negotiated with outgoing British prime minister Theresa May.

Michael Gove wants a renegotiation to add a "clear exit mechanism" from the backstop, and a "Stormont lock" in which a devolved administration could veto any backstop plans.

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He also proposes appointing a dedicated minister to lead the search for technological solutions to preventing a hard border.

Matt Hancock said he would seek a time limit to the backstop, and proposed an "Irish Border Council" to maintain a soft border, involving Stormont parties, the British and Irish governments and the EU.

The health secretary said it would aim to find a "long-term political, administrative and technological solution".

Mark Harper wants the backstop replaced with the so-called "Malthouse Compromise".

Read More: Tory leadership contenders set out their plans to renegotiate Brexit deal

Brokered by housing minister Kit Malthouse, it involves a free trade deal with "maximum facilitation" – technical and technological solutions in an attempt to minimise border controls.

Dominic Raab also wants to replace the backstop with the Malthouse Compromise.

The former Brexit secretary has said he wants a "a targeted forensic change to the backstop".

Jeremy Hunt believes a technological solution is "doable but we have to find the structures that reassure people that this is deliverable".

Read More: The Northern Ireland 'backstop' Q&A

He has also suggested the DUP – whose MPs prop up the minority Conservative government – could be added to the British government's negotiating team.

Sajid Javid also believes technology can prevent a hard border.

He said "a new digitised" border could be "done in a couple of years", and the UK would pay for it in a "grand gesture" to the Irish government.

Boris Johnson has described the backstop as a "monstrosity" and he would seek to remove it from the withdrawal agreement.

The former foreign secretary has suggested he would only discuss border arrangements in trade deal talks.

Rather than a renegotiation of the backstop, Andrea Leadsom has proposed a "managed exit" as part of a three-point plan.

It involves a basic trade deal featuring technical and technological ideas.

Rory Stewart proposes trying again to get the current deal through Westminster, including the backstop.

He said there is "literally no evidence at all that Europe will give us a different deal".

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