By Guillermo Ximenis / The UK’s new proposal to try and reach an agreement on the terms of its exit from the EU is based on limiting certain aspects of the so-called Irish backstop, a mechanism that Brussels came up with in order to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland after Brexit.
The EU wants to ensure the peace agreements signed in 1998 are respected so it needs a guarantee that no physical barriers are put in place between the two Irelands.
It thus created a kind of insurance policy that would force Northern Ireland to remain in the single market and EU customs union until there is an alternative solution eliminating the need for borders, like a free trade agreement between the UK and EU – but that could take years.
Eurosceptics believe the backstop would force the UK to remain tied to European structures against its will, as well as restrict its ability to secure independent trade policies.
Here are the main points of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s new plan:
– CREATING AN IRISH REGULATORY AREA:
Northern Ireland would leave the European single market, although regulations on trade, including agricultural and food products, would remain aligned with the EU (and therefore the Republic of Ireland.)
The other regions of the UK could begin to deviate from EU norms as London negotiates agreements with third countries.
Goods entering Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK will need to be checked to ensure they meet European standards, something the British government considers a concession to the EU.
– ABANDONING THE CUSTOMS UNION
Northern Ireland would leave the EU customs union, which means companies that transport goods between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland would have to declare their imports and exports for corresponding tariffs to apply.
London says this is compatible with keeping the border open and proposes paperwork be done electronically, with few physical controls that would not need to be carried out at the border.
The EU has been skeptical over the existence of the technology that would be needed to apply a solution like this in the short term.
– TEMPORARY LIMIT
This is one of the most controversial aspects of the UK’s proposal. The UK wants the Northern Ireland Assembly to approve these customs arrangements at the end of the Brexit transition period – at the end of 2020 – and to ratify this every four years.
The new customs system may not come into force if Belfast does not consider it appropriate in 2020. It could be canceled unilaterally by the UK side around 2025.
If the Assembly were to scrap the plan once Brexit materializes the EU would be forced to erect a border in order to protect the single market, which would entail breaking one of the principles of the peace agreements: the non-existence of physical barriers between the two Irelands.
The UK says it has no intention of establishing border controls, so Brussels would have to find a solution.
– FUTURE RELATIONSHIP
The agreement that London and Brussels need to reach this month refers only to the conditions of the UK’s departure. Negotiations on its future trade relationship, which is expected to be equally as complex and could take years, will begin after Brexit has materialized.
Johnson says his plan for the future UK-EU relationship is different to the one his predecessor Theresa May had in mind.
While May planned to maintain close trade and diplomatic ties with the EU, Johnson wants to move away from the bloc in order to forge new agreements with third countries, particularly the US. (October 3, 2019, EFE/Practica Español)
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