There are things that we can do which will change the way in which we leave the European Union. I think that, critically, one of the issues that caused me particular concern has been the backstop. And it’s caused me concern for two reasons. One: as a unionist I didn’t like the idea of any part of our United Kingdom being treated differently. And secondly, as someone who wants all the benefits of a full Canada-style free trade agreement I don’t want to have some of the customs restrictions that are implicit in the backstop.
At the last meeting at Strasbourg, the EU committed to working alternative arrangements that could obviate the need ever to go into the backstop or could ensure that we actually replace it. I think that there are ways in which we can work with the Irish government in order to ensure that we either need never go in or if we are in that it can very quickly be superseded. I’ve had conversations with people on different sides of the Irish border. I believe there is room for movement.
There’s also a significant change as well, which has happened since those conversations. Hitherto, Sinn Fein have not wanted to get the power sharing arrangements in Northern Ireland up and running but they had a bad time in the local and European elections south of the border. Voters there did not like the approach towards devolution in Northern Ireland and the refusal to reengage. I think there is an opportunity to get the parties back on the table to get a negotiated settlement so that we restore devolution to Northern Ireland.
One of the peculiarities of the last general election is that there is no representation of nationalists in Northern Ireland in Westminster and therefore they have a missing voice. If we get the institutions back up and running in Northern Ireland, nationalists will be involved in the administration of Northern Ireland. That will make it easier for us to get those alternative arrangements in place and to provide security to border communities and also to ensure that we can have the both the safeguarding of the Belfast Agreement but also the economic benefits that have flowed since then.
The right thing to do is to make sure that we very quickly move to a situation where we recognise that alternative arrangements can supplant the need for a backstop. I think that the right thing to do is to demonstrate, practically, that all of the concerns that people have understandably raised about the border can be resolved. The EU have acknowledged that the backstop is explicitly temporary in EU law. Their commitment to work with us an alternative arrangement shows that they recognise that there can be an approach which need not tie us in to that arrangement.
This is an extract from Michael Gove’s comments at last night’s Spectator event, where he talks about changes in Irish politics increasing the chances for ‘alternative arrangements’ to the backstop