In depth: A closer look at Boris' border proposal - and the reaction from Dublin and Brussels

In depth: A closer look at Boris' border proposal - and the reaction from Dublin and Brussels

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has at last tabled a formal proposal to replace the much-maligned British-Irish border backstop. In his letter to Jean Claude Juncker, Mr Johnson set out his vision of how the UK can leave the European Union without undermining the Good Friday Agreement.

We take a look in-depth at what the letter said and what the reaction has been from Dublin and Brussels.

The Backstop

What letter said:

“Our proposed compromise removes the so-called "backstop" in the previous Withdrawal Agreement. I have explained the difficulties with this elsewhere, including the fact that it has been rejected three times by the UK Parliament.

"Equally importantly in this context, the backstop acted as a bridge to a proposed future relationship with the EU in which the UK would be closely integrated with EU customs arrangements and would align with EU law in many areas.

That proposed future relationship is not the goal of the current UK Government. The Government intends that the future relationship should be based on a Free Trade Agreement in which the UK takes control of its own regulatory affairs and trade policy.

"In these circumstances the proposed backstop is a 'bridge to nowhere', and a new way forward must be found. Accordingly, we are now proposing a new Protocol on Ireland / Northern Ireland."

What it means?

Given it was rejected by the House of Commons three times, the so-called undemocratic backstop has been a major source of ire within the Tory party and the DUP. So, Johnson's big offer or claimed concession is that he is willing to concede ground on a special status for Northern Ireland, but only temporarily.

The reaction

There was widespread scepticism about what was being proposed on Tuesday night from both Dublin and Brussels. The Irish and EU are insistent that any replacement for the backstop must protrect the fundamental goals of no border and no checks.

Jean Claude Juncker said that there are “still some problematic points that will need further work in the coming days, notably with regards to the governance of the backstop”. Another concern that needs to be addressed are the substantive customs rules, said Juncker.

In depth: A closer look at Boris' border proposal - and the reaction from Dublin and Brussels

He also stressed that we must have a legally operational solution that meets all the objectives of the backstop: preventing a hard border, preserving North-South cooperation and the all-island economy.

Good Friday Agreement

What the letter said:

"Our proposal is centred on our commitment to find solutions which are compatible with the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement.

This framework is the fundamental basis for governance in Northern Ireland and protecting it is the highest priority for all.

What it means?

This pledge will be welcome as Johnson and his team have appeared to be reneging on such commitments in recent days.

The reaction

Both the EU and Ireland feel such commitments to the Belfast Agreement are not compatible with Johnson's offer. President Juncker said the delicate balance struck by the Good Friday Agreement must be preserved.

EU customs union

What the letter said:

"Under these arrangements, Northern Ireland will be fully part of the UK customs territory, not the EU Customs Union, after the end of the transition period.

"It has always been a fundamental point for this Government that the UK will leave the EU customs union at the end of the transition period. We must do so whole and entire.

Control of trade policy is fundamental to our future vision.

What it means?

This is entirely compatible with maintaining an open border in Northern Ireland. Goods trade between Northern Ireland and Ireland makes up a little over one per cent of UK-EU total trade in goods. It is entirely reasonable to manage this border in a different way.

Any risks arising will be manageable in both the EU single market and the UK market, particularly as all third country imports will continue to be controlled by the EU and UK customs authorities.

The reaction

The DUP, in welcoming the letter, said the proposals would ensure that Northern Ireland would be out of the EU Customs Union and the Single Market as with the rest of the United Kingdom.

In depth: A closer look at Boris' border proposal - and the reaction from Dublin and Brussels

Border checks

What the letter said:

"We are proposing that all customs processes needed to ensure compliance with the UK and EU customs regimes should take place on a decentralised basis, with paperwork conducted electronically as goods move between the two countries, and with the very small number of physical checks needed conducted at traders' premises or other points on the supply chain."

What it means?

Johnson has committed to no hard border but has said checks have to be a feature. Checks in businesses, checks near the border and cooperation between the UK and Ireland would be needed to make it work, he insists.

The reaction

A deal breaker on its own and won't fly with the Government or the EU. The consistent line is no checks either on or near the border.

All-island regulatory zone

What the letter said:

"It provides for the potential creation of an all-island regulatory zone on the island of Ireland, covering all goods including agrifood. For as long as it exists, this zone would eliminate all regulatory checks for trade in goods between Northern Ireland and Ireland by ensuring that goods regulations in Northern Ireland are the same as those in the rest of the EU."

What it means?

Essentially it means that the island of Ireland would become a block for the purposes of agri-food and therefore creating an effective border in the Irish Sea.

The reaction

The Irish Government has consistently said that such a proposal only solves part of the problem and not the whole of it. Jean Claude Juncker acknowledged the positive advances, notably with regards to the full regulatory alignment for all goods and the control of goods entering Northern Ireland from Great Britain.

Common Travel Area

What the letter said:

"It confirms our commitment to long-standing areas of UK/Ireland collaboration, including those provided for in the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement, but also others, in some cases predating the European Union: the Common Travel Area, the rights of all those living in Northern Ireland, and North/South cooperation.

These were set out in the previous Protocol and should be maintained in the new one.

What it means?

One of the first things agreed by the two governments over a year ago was a commitment to allow the CTA continue. As it predates the EU, it was one of the easier matters to resolve.

The reaction

One area of consensus, so no great kick back

Northern Ireland Executive sign off

What the letter said:

"We are proposing that the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly should have the opportunity to endorse those arrangements before they enter into force, that is, during the transition period, and every four years afterwards.

In depth: A closer look at Boris' border proposal - and the reaction from Dublin and Brussels

"If consent is not secured, the arrangements will lapse. The same should apply to the Single Electricity Market, which raises the same principles."

What it means?

The Stormont Assembly would have a strong say as to how the trade arrangements would operate into the future. But huge doubts arise over this proposal given the Assembly remains collapsed for almost three years.

The reaction

Johnson is seeking to give a voice to the people of Ulster, he says, but this move has been condemned by Sinn Fein as giving the DUP a veto. “This is dangerous and not a serious proposition,” said Sinn Fein President Mary Lou McDonald.

So what next?

What the letter said:

"I hope that these proposals can now provide the basis for rapid negotiations towards a solution, together with finalisation of the necessary changes to the Political Declaration reflecting the goal of a comprehensive Free Trade Agreement, so that an Article 50 agreement can be reached, and the UK can leave the EU in an orderly fashion on 31 October.

"This will allow us to focus on the positive future relationship that I believe is in all of our interests. I am copying this letter and paper to other members of the European Council and to Michel Barnier."

What it means?

While appearing to want a deal, there is a growing sense that Johnson knows these proposals will be shot down and give him cover to seek a dissolution of the Commons and call a General Election.

The reaction

President Juncker confirmed to Mr Johnson that the Commission will now examine the legal text objectively, and in light of our well-known criteria. “The EU wants a deal. We remain united and ready to work 24/7 to make this happen – as we have been for over three years now,” he said.

But it is fair to say, there is a great deal of scepticism around his proposals and it is a widely held view that he is merely orchestrating the landscape for a General Election.

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