POLITICS
07/06/2018 18:01 BST

Brexit Briefing: The Backstop Needs A Backstop

All you need to know from a crazy week in the world of Brexit.

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1) David Davis Has Found Something Else He Won’t Resign Over

ADRIAN DENNIS via Getty Images

After a day of ‘will he won’t he’, David Davis decided he wouldn’t.

The Brexit Secretary is still in post at the time of writing, having secured a change to the Government’s Temporary Customs Arrangement plan – also known as the ‘backstop’.

The backstop kicks in if the UK and EU have failed to implement, or reach, an agreement on a future customs policy that would prevent a hard border with Ireland.

The EU’s version of the backstop would keep Northern Ireland in the Single Market and customs union – a plan dubbed something “no UK prime minister could ever agree” to by Theresa May in February.

Downing Street’s proposal is to keep the whole of the UK in a customs union with the EU, for a time limited period.

However, when Theresa May circulated a four-page proposal of the UK’s version of the backstop among her Brexit sub-committee on Wednesday, it was noticed that the time limit didn’t have an actual limit.

Davis kicked off, and rumours he was going to resign swept Westminster last night.

After meeting with May today, an agreement was reached.

The document’s final paragraph now reads:

The UK is clear that the temporary customs arrangement, should it be needed, should be time limited, and that it will be only in place until the future customs arrangement can be introduced. The UK is clear that the future customs arrangement needs to deliver on the commitments made in relation to Northern Ireland. The UK expects the future arrangement to be in place by the end of December 2021 at the latest. There are a range of options for how a time limit could be delivered, which the UK will propose and discuss with the EU.

2) Everybody Can Claim Victory, Which Is Worrying

PA Wire/PA Images

As always with Brexit, this new agreement can be read both ways.

If you want to be charitable to Davis, you can say the inclusion of an end date is a victory. But the language around it has more get-out clauses than a .

The text only says the UK “expects” the future arrangements to be ready to go by 2022, and it is unclear what would happen if they weren’t. Would the backstop be extended? Would the other parts of the deal then fall down? There is no explicit plan B.

If a backstop needs a backstop, is it a backstop at all?

3) Don’t Get Too Excited, Barnier Needs To Have His Way With It First

Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Michel Barnier took to Twitter to give his reaction to the proposal.

“I welcome publication of #UK proposal on customs aspects of IE/NI backstop. We will examine it with 3 questions: is it a workable solution to avoid a hard border? Does it respect the integrity of the SM/CU? Is it an all-weather backstop?”

The answer to all three questions is both ‘yes’ and ‘no’. The reason for the ambiguity is because the UK wants to maintain its own independent trade policy – except in the areas that “do not affect the functioning of the temporary customs arrangement.”

If that is possible, that would avoid a hard border and respect the integrity of the Single Market and customs union.

But that really is a ‘having your cake and eating it too’ strategy. It’s highly unlikely the EU would agree to that. If they did, then that should probably be the frontstop, not the backstop, in the negotiations.

On the third point – is it “all-weather”? – the answer is more ‘no’ than ‘yes’. If “all-weather” is a reference to how long it will last, the UK has already said it “expects” it to only last a year after transition. Even that loose language could prove too much for the Irish government, who don’t want any time limit.

Another interpretation is that this backstop kicks in regardless of the state of the negotiations – even if it’s ‘no deal’. The EU has tried this trick before. In the December agreement, the European Commission said the backstop should kick in “in the absence of agreed solutions”.

It was not widely picked up at the time, but the Prime Minister’s Official Spokesman was keen to downplay the significance of it Tuesday.

Surely, not even Theresa May would sign up to an agreement which says in the case of ‘no deal’, the UK would stay in the customs union and Single Market?

4) Labour’s ‘Constructive Ambiguity’ Is Proving Barely Constructive

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Continuing to prove the Brexit plays havoc with every political institution it touches, Labour decided to have another falling out in public this week.

It was sparked by Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer’s latest gargantuan effort to move official party policy six inches closer to a remaining in the Single Market.

Labour announced it would put forward an amendment to a future Brexit bill that would ensure the UK had shared minimum standards, rights and protections with the EU.

It would also call for shared “UK-EU institutions” – although there was no explanation as to what they would be.

The move would mean the UK having to follow Brussels rules, potentially including on free movement of people.

But what Labour won’t be doing is voting for an amendment to the EU Withdrawal Bill coming before MPs next week which actually keep the UK in the Single Market by virtue of membership of the European Economic Area (dubbed the ‘Norway model’).

The leadership has told its MPs to abstain on the vote, a move which has angered anti-Brexit MPs including Chuka Umunna, Chris Leslie and others. Alison McGovern accused Starmer of allowing the party to “drift” when it comes to Brexit instead of “leading the debate”.

Starmer insisted this week he was “injecting some honesty about where we are in the party” by bringing forward the amendment.

“The pretence that everyone in the Labour party is in the same place on this, and therefore it is winnable, is a pretence and it really doesn’t help,” he said.

As much as Umunna and others might not like it, there are a decent number of Labour MPs who - while not being Brexiteers - believe the correct interpretation of the referendum result is the UK must be out of the customs union and Single Market.

Don’t Get Angry, Get Blogging…

At HuffPost we love a good blog, and here are the finest Brexit-penned entries from this week. Have a read, and if any of them provoke an urge in you to speak your brain, send a blog to ukblogteam@huffingtonpost.com and you could find yourself in this very newsletter.

Ioannis Glinavos on the political drama in Italy and whether it really means the end of the EU as we know it

Liz Kendall on why our post-Brexit NHS must embrace immigration to survive

Nick Lowles on why a hard Brexit would only benefit the hard right