Brexit, Boris and the Backstop: June Update

As the Tory leadership battle dominates the headlines, current front runner Boris Johnson continues to set out plans that head toward a No Deal Brexit

In his most recent interview, Johnson admitted  that he would need EU cooperation to avoid a hard border in Ireland or the crippling tariffs in the event of a no deal Brexit. There are questions around just how much the EU would be willing to cooperate if this were the case, especially in the absence of the Irish backstop or the settlement of the 39 billion euro divorce bill.

The EU are standing firm on their refusal to reopen the Withdrawal Agreement, and the extended departure date still remains as the 31 October 2019 with little will to extend in the absence of any real prospect of  a deal. With Johnson claiming that negotiated Withdrawal Deal is dead, and having articulated no workable plans of his own, there are major indications that the UK is headed towards a no deal Brexit by default by the October deadline. In a recent article from Tony Connelly, he has quoted a senior EU official claim that some Conservatives have “redefined Brexit” and “turned Brexit into a No Deal”.

What about the role of parliament?

There are still questions about whether Parliament can prevent a no deal Brexit. Most recently, Labour tabled a motion on 12 June with the intent that MPs would take control of parliamentary time to debate a Bill linked to preventing a no deal Brexit. This was defeated by 309 votes to 298. It has been highlighted  that parliament cannot stop a no deal Brexit on its own and needs to have the support of the Government, however an extension to Article 50 can only be decided by the EU27.

In recent days there have been warnings from some Conservatives that the government could collapse if Johnson continues to pursue a no deal.

What about the backstop?

Brexiteers continue to oppose the backstop, claiming that there are ready made technical solutions that could be utilised to prevent border checks and infrastructure. However, there is a real danger that border checks would instead, take place away from the border, which simply moves the problem elsewhere and creates problems for other public services. Suitable technical solutions do not yet exist which would deal with the Irish border, and given the sensitivities around the border and the fragility of the peace process, it would be a catastrophe if new technical solutions were tested here. See here for an example of the difficulties that the fishing industry here would face as a result of a technical solution.  The backstop is essential to protect the peace agreement, cross border cooperation and to act as an insurance policy in any breakdown in negotiations. 

What is next?

Whilst the political focus remains very much on the Tory leadership race, NICVA has joined other civil society groups in warning of a no deal Brexit emergency. Meanwhile in the EU, they are focussing on their own leadership debate with top jobs such as Presidents of the European Commission and European Council up for grabs however, the EU position of non-negotiation of the Withdrawal Agreement has been reiterated. In the meantime, it’s worth keeping an eye on what comes out of this Alternative Arrangements Commission.


The opinions, views or comments in this article do not necessarily reflect any views or policies of NICVA.

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