After a morning of high drama in Westminster, the UK government now has a backstop proposal to put to the EU. Last night, the backstop text said that it was time limited but didn’t specify an end date. In two meetings with the Prime Minister this morning, David Davis demanded changes. He has got some concessions: the text now talks about how ‘The UK expects the future arrangement to be in place by December 2021’. But there is no hard cut-off date in the text. Theresa May was acutely aware that if one had been included, the EU would have rejected it out of hand.
We now wait to see what the EU says about it. Michel Barnier has already tweeted his three tests for it. The tweet is relatively polite by his team’s recent standards, but it also makes clear that Barnier isn’t yet prepared to accept this backstop being UK wide.
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?
— Michel Barnier (@MichelBarnier) June 7, 2018
However, if this backstop is agreed, it is — as I say in the column this week — hard to see what incentive the EU has to negotiate the kind of trade deal that would allow the backstop to be lifted. Certainly, the danger of the backstop becoming permanent has not been lifted by the UK’s proposal.