WHY IS THE IRISH BACKSTOP SUCH AN ISSUE?
By Denis O'Sullivan
A key part of the Brexit negotiations was about the border that separates Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. After Brexit, the 310-mile long border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland will become the border between the UK and the EU.
There are 208 formal border crossings each day and many more informal ones with thousands of people crossing every day for work and pleasure, as do huge amounts of goods and services. With the UK leaving the EU single market and customs union, dealing with goods and services, which don’t currently face any customs checks, is where things get tricky. Putting in security and customs checkpoints, A.K.A a hard border, is the option no one wants.
The Good Friday Agreement, the basic building block of peace in Northern Ireland removed security and made the border practically seamless. The EU customs union and single market had already removed the need for custom and product standard checks and reinstating those checks could undermine that progress with police in Northern Ireland and checkpoints could become a target for dissident republicans.
Certain Brexiteers such as Boris Johnson and David Davis have argued that technology could be used however, the PM has stated that no technology has been invented that could solve the issue at the Irish border. Without an obvious solution, the EU wanted an insurance policy so that goods and services could travel freely after Brexit, and that is where the Backstop comes in.
The “Irish backstop” is effectively an insurance policy in UK-EU Brexit negotiations. It is meant to make sure that the Irish border remains open (as it is today) whatever the outcome of the UK and the EU’s future relationship negotiations. At present, goods and services are traded between the two jurisdictions in Ireland with few restrictions. The UK and Ireland are currently part of the EU single market and customs union, so products do not need to be inspected for customs and standards.
However, not everyone was keen on it - Northern Ireland’s biggest party, the DUP (which props up Theresa May’s government), said it would effectively make a border down the Irish sea between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK. The PM could not risk losing the support of a party that keeps her with a job and instead the government suggested a temporary customs arrangement to apply to the whole of the UK keeping it in the ustoms union with the EU for a limited period of time after the end of the proposed transition period. The EU is not sold on this proposal yet and talks between the UK and the EU negotiating teams are ongoing.
If there’s no breakthrough on the backstop by the October summit then there’s no withdrawal agreement and no transition period, which could see the UK crash out of the EU with no deal at all. Overall this has left a lot of uncertainty with the Brexit clock running out.