EU leaders have released a letter reiterating the so-called backstop plan would only ever be temporary after Brexit, but have refused to reopen negotiations to amend the proposal in the withdrawal deal.
European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker and European Council president Donald Tusk gave the assurances in a letter published a day before MPs vote on Theresa May’s deal.
The pair agree the backstop – which would see the UK following EU rules and regulations in order to prevent a hard border with Ireland – would not be a permanent arrangement after Brexit.
It would only come into force if a trade deal was not ready to be signed by the time the transition period ends in December 2020 – although that period could be extended by a year.
— Jean-Claude Juncker (@JunckerEU) January 14, 2019
The letter does not offer an end date for the backstop or the option for the UK to leave the arrangement unilaterally – measures called for by Brexiter Tories who fear being locked in to the proposal.
However, Tusk and Juncker claimed the promise to ensure the backstop is temporary does have “legal value”, as they were part of the conclusions of December’s European Council.
May will be hoping the letter offers enough assurances to those opposed to her deal to switch position and back it come the vote tomorrow evening.
The letter reads: “As you know, we are not in a position to agree to anything that changes or is inconsistent with the Withdrawal Agreement, but against this background, and in order to facilitate the next steps of the process, we are happy to confirm, on behalf of the two EU Institutions we represent, our understanding of the following points within our respective fields of responsibility.”
It goes on: “If the backstop were nevertheless to be triggered, it would only apply temporarily, unless and until it is superseded by a subsequent agreement that ensures that a hard border is avoided, and that the European Union, in such a case, would use its best endeavours to negotiate and conclude expeditiously a subsequent agreement that would replace the backstop, and would expect the same of the United Kingdom, so that the backstop would only be in place for as long as strictly necessary.”
Labour's shadow Brexit secretary, Sir Keir Starmer, accused May of failing to deliver on her promises, and said: “This is a long way from the significant and legally effective commitment the Prime Minister promised last month. It is a reiteration of the EU’s existing position. Once again, nothing has changed.”