Brexit fallback deal on border is ‘legally firm’

The fallback deal to ensure there is no return to any border or checkpoints in the North is now “legally firm”, the Government has said.

The position comes after Tánaiste Simon Coveney said progress was made on the Brexit negotiations for Ireland in Brussels yesterday, ahead of a key EU summit later this week.

He said, following talks between the EU and UK sides, London had now agreed that the so-called ‘backstop’ or fallback deal must be legally agreed as part of the Brexit withdrawal pact.

Mr Coveney said this would provide businesses in Ireland and communities in the North with confidence. His comments came after he met EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier in Brussels.

Nonetheless, there is still a significant impasse to overcome as Britain has refused to accept terms of the backstop deal which would keep the North in the EU customs union if there was no Brexit deal, a position guaranteeing no border. Some Tories go as far as to suggest the terms are akin to a land grab.

The UK and the EU reached agreement yesterday on the transition deal which will allow talks on the future trade relationship to be triggered later this week. But the thorny issue of the North remains unresolved.

The EU proposals for ‘backstop’ arrangements for the Irish border remain. But there will be intense negotiations before the deadline for a final agreement in October. And talks on this will continue next week.

Under the arrangements, the North would continue to be considered “part of the customs territory of the Union”, effectively creating a customs border along the Irish Sea.

Brexit Secretary David Davis said he had agreed with Mr Barnier on the need to include legal text detailing a ‘backstop’ solution acceptable to both sides.

But he added: “It remains our intention to achieve a partnership that is so close as to not require specific measures in relation to Northern Ireland, and therefore, we will engage in detail on all the scenarios set out in the joint report.”

This is problematic though for Ireland, as alternative proposals have still not been advanced by London.

Nonetheless, the Tánaiste said it was not being proposed that Ireland and the EU would contemplate similar border controls that exist between the US and Canada or Norway and Sweden.

A spokesman for Taoiseach Leo Varadkar last night said the ‘backstop’ solution to the border issue was “legally firm”.

“The backstop is as legally firm as the Government said it would be in December,” the spokesman said.

Labour’s Brendan Howlin said caution was needed around the new deal.

“While the so-called ‘backstop’ technically remains in place, we appear to be no closer to any solution on how it will work in practice.”

Meanwhile, Mr Varadkar travels to Berlin today for a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, following her re-election last week to her position for the fourth time by the Bundestag.

Discussions will focus on the agenda for this week’s EU summit, including on Brexit, trade, the EMU and digital taxation.

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