Discussions about a proposed alternative to the Irish backstop have begun in Parliament today. The Alternative Arrangements Working Group, which is made up of both Leave and Remain MPs, have begun three days of discussion to find an alternative to the Irish backstop on the matter. Home Secretary Sajid Javid has already said that existing technology could be used as an alternative, while MPs debate whether systems like Trusted Traders schemes could be implemented to stop checks at the Irish border.
The discussions might ultimately come to nothing, however, as EU leaders continue to rule out making changes to the backstop arrangements within the Withdrawal Agreement. Irish leader Leo Varadkar told the press last night the ideas the UK were considering had “already been rejected” and he found it frustrating that the UK would be going back to considering technological replacements of the backstop.
The very fact that the government appears willing to spend three days reviewing these options means Theresa May is hoping a suitable solution might just be attractive enough for the EU to reconsider. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said, after all, that the EU is willing to listen to the proposals outlined by the UK – but that they needed to hear, specifically, how the UK intends to solve the backstop riddle.
Tim Farron, former leader of the Liberal Democrats, has accused Theresa May of wasting time with the new working group, and the Irish deputy prime minister Simon Coveney was similarly negative about the ideas being considered. Writing in The Sunday Times, Coveney explained:
“This is not a new concept. The EU is committed to trying to agree alternative arrangements to replace the backstop. We want a comprehensive future relationship in place by the end of 2020 so the backstop is never used. We want to get on with the work once the withdrawal agreement is ratified. Yet there are no credible alternative arrangements, put forward by anyone, that achieve the shared goal of the UK and EU to avoid a hard border. The backstop is a necessary guarantee, based on legal certainty, not just wishful thinking.”
Meanwhile, Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs (HMRC) has announced that EU imports will not get extra checks following a No Deal Brexit, to avoid any traffic delays if we leave without a deal at the end of March. Critics have suggested that such a measure would mean the UK wouldn’t know what was being imported into the UK…while failing to recognize this is the same policy we have as members of the European Union.
HMRC said that the transitional plans would be put into place for one year, where EU goods will be waved through in the same way they are now, while other arrangements are put into place.