Brussels responds to May's Brexit proposal: 'Is this a backstop?'

Catherine Neilan
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Protests As The British Prime Minister Triggers Article 50
Backstop stopped (Source: Getty)

Brussels has issued its first take on the Brexit backstop proposals put forward by the UK last week, and it doesn't look good.

Although the EU Commission insists the update published today outlines "issues for further discussion with our UK counterparts", the wording clearly seems to back Michel Barnier's original proposal - which was rejected by Theresa May back in February - while rejecting Westminster's latest effort.

One of the snags is the time-limit - an 11th hour addition to stop Brexit secretary David Davis from resigning.

Read more: Davis and Barnier to meet after Brexit backstop drama

But the slides published by the European Commission show Brussels is not happy with this move, asking: "Is this a backstop?"

The document also notes that it is a "complex and unprecedented arrangement for short duration", claims that it "covers issues to be discussed as part of the future EU-UK relationship" and warns of the "risk of multiple adaptations for businesses and authorities".

That's not the only problem they have with it.

On trade policy, the Commission argues the UK's backstop raises "uncertainty on scope of EU trade policy applicable to the UK", may require officials to "renegotiate existing EU [free trade agreements] and cover the UK in future FTAs on a temporary basis" and "risks of misalignment of UK and EU trade policies and FTAs".

The document also accuses the backstop of deploying a "piecemeal application of EU VAT and excise rules" and claims that it carries "serious risks of fraud on a significant resource for member states".

Ultimately, Brussels concludes that the UK's position leaves "key questions unanswered", does not sufficiently deal with regulatory issues which would result in a hard border anyway, and is time-limited, but UK-wide.

Meanwhile Barnier's suggestion - in which Northern Ireland remains part of the customs union, effectively creating a hard border down the Irish Sea - is a "timely and workable solution", which "covers all necessary customs and regulatory controls to avoid a hard border" and "addresses the specific circumstances on the island of Ireland without pre-determining the future EU-UK relationship".

Read more: Tory rebels could 'change course of Brexit' in customs union vote – Starmer

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