What does Theresa May want to get from Brussels? At Prime Minister’s Questions, Jeremy Corbyn pressed the Prime Minister on what type of concession she would be seeking from the EU on the backstop. May refused to divulge many details but the word in Whitehall is that the UK government is ready to present a specific proposal to Brussels.
The expectation in government is that Attorney General Geoffrey Cox’s aim is to secure a joint interpretative exit mechanism with a notice period attached to it. Government sources say that the notice period ought to be around 12 months – though this isn’t necessarily a red line. Other government figures play down the specificity of the notice period. Were Cox to secure such a concession, the view is that he would be able to change his legal advice – seen as key to winning eurosceptic votes.
Although this falls far short of the Brexiteers’ preferred Malthouse Compromise (which replaces the backstop entirely), senior government figures believe a unilateral exit mechanism – most likely in the form of a codicil if the EU refuses to reopen the Withdrawal Agreement – would be enough to win over the DUP and the bulk of the European Research Group. This is because it would be combined with a promise to seek something close to the Malthouse Compromise in the future relationship. The non-binding political declaration could be updated to make this clear.
However, much scepticism remains over whether this is feasible – and whether it would really be enough to win a sufficient amount of Brexiteers around to pass a deal. While government figures are the most optimistic they have been in months, it’s worth noting that Cox was keen to urge caution at this week’s Cabinet.