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May’s government scraps time-limit red line for Brexit backstop



Dominic Raab
Dominic Raab.

  • Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab admits there probably
    won’t be a time-limited Brexit backstop.
  • Theresa May’s government originally told the EU it
    could not accept any backstop arrangement without a fixed end
    date. The backstop is the insurance policy for protecting the
    invisible Irish border.
  • Pro-Brexit Conservatives have said they will not accept
    a backstop without a specific end date.
  • However, Raab and another Brexit minister, Suella
    Braverman, admitted on Sunday that the government is prepared
    to scrap that red line.
  • May faces another dangerous week with Conservative MPs
    urging each other to oust her.


LONDON — Dominic Raab and another UK Brexit minister have
conceded that the Brexit “backstop” probably will not have a
fixed end date, putting Theresa May’s government on a collision
course with pro-Leave MPs.

Pro-Brexit MPs both in the prime minister’s Cabinet and on the
Conservative backbenches have said that the backstop clause for
preserving the frictionless Irish border after Brexit must
have an explicit end date.

This is because they fear the backstop could result in Britain
remaining in the EU’s customs arrangements for years or
potentially decades to come, leaving UK governments unable to
sign new trade deals with other countries.

However, at the European Council summit in Brussels this week,
May effectively killed off the
prospect of a fixed end date
, refusing to deny reports that she told the
Irish government there will not be a specific time-limit.

On Sunday morning, UK Brexit Secretary Raab told Andrew Marr that
the backstop clause, which both sides need to resolve for there
to be any Brexit deal, might have “another mechanism” rather than
an explicit end date.

“It would be rather odd if we remained in a temporary mechanism
without a route out. It could be time-limited, it could be
another mechanism,” Raab told Marr. “There needs to be
something for controlling how long we are there for to avoid any
sense we are left indefinitely in a sort of customs union

He was echoed by Brexit minister Suella Braverman, who told Sky
News that the length of the backstop could be determined by an
alternative “very clear mechanism,” such as conditions for
deciding when it can be removed.

Raab and Braverman’s comments square with the latest noises
coming out of Brexit negotiations.

A Cabinet source told BI this week that May was
focused on creating something which “feels” like a time-limit,
rather than an actual end date. Her spokesperson also suggested
that she was willing to scrap the time-limit red line, telling
reporters that her priority was establishing “a mechanism to
clearly define how” the backstop will end.

The UK government’s apparent concession comes as May prepares for
perhaps the most dangerous week of her premiership, with MPs on
all sides of her party calling for her to step down as Tory
leader and prime minister.

Johnny Mercer, one of the party’s most highly-rated MPs, said he “cannot continue to
support an administration that cannot function” amid heavy
speculation that May could face a leadership challenge this week.

Theresa May Johnny Mercer
Theresa May and Johnny
Mercer MP.

Dylan Martinez/WPA
Pool/Getty Images

The current impasse in Brexit talks hinges on the so-called
“backstop,” which is designed to prevent a hard border emerging
between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland after

Under May’s preferred version of the backstop, the whole of the
UK would effectively stay in the customs union temporarily after
the 21-month transition period has ended if no alternative
arrangements have been secured.

Pro-Brexit Conservative MPs have been adamant that such an
arrangement would have to come with a fixed end date to ensure
that Britain doesn’t end up trapped in the EU’s strict customs
regime for years and years.

A Cabinet source told BI last week that pro-Brexit ministers
Andrea Leadsom, Esther McVey, and Penny Mordaunt could quit if
there is no fixed end date. This isn’t just one more
little compromise from the prime minister to get a deal over the
line… it is the litmus test for taking back control… this is
the killer moment, they said.

Nathalie Loiseau, France’s Europe minister, reiterated the EU’s
insistence that the backstop cannot come with an end date. She
told Marr: “We can’t have temporary measures that disappear and
we don’t know what to do after that.”

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