Plans to make the backstop redundant and more time to devise a permanent substitute to help keep the DUP on side, are among the ideas being touted, as the Brexit negotiations on EU withdrawal reach a climax. The FT reports on ” the tunnel phase” when no new proposals will be published by either side until the deal is done – or not
Before the weekend is out, negotiators want to agree a complete draft treaty, defining the terms of Britain’s departure, a 21-month transition, and the solution to Northern Ireland’s border conundrum. But should a deal prove elusive, senior officials on both sides fear it will trigger a jolt in markets, upheaval in Westminster and a frantic phase of European diplomacy. “I’m optimistic but it’s hard to imagine how this will be a completely smooth process,” said an EU member state official overseeing Brexit preparations. “A breakdown and crisis can provide sudden energy.” Those preparing for the coming weeks — including an EU summit on Wednesday — foresee three main scenarios: a clean deal; a serious crisis; or an unpredictable muddle. The clean deal If there is one clear deadline in the coming days, it is a meeting of so-called “Sherpas” on Monday, which is preparing for the summit of the EU’s 27 remaining member states on Wednesday night. If an agreement is not in hand by Monday there will not be enough time to prepare the summit. Even with a deal this weekend, the Brexit negotiations will not be over. The two sides hope to finish a draft of the withdrawal treaty — the only legally binding agreement between Britain and the EU that will remain after Brexit day. But that text will remain ad referendum — subject to final agreement.
That is because the accompanying “political declaration” on future relations will be a work in progress. A skeleton version is expected to be published on Monday to serve as the basis for a final stretch of talks ahead of a special summit in mid-November. The declaration is crucial for Theresa May, the British prime minister. She wants the document to set out such an ambitious vision for UK-EU relations that a “backstop” plan to avoid a hard border with Ireland would only be needed temporarily, if at all.
A significant extension of the time limit of the transition period beyond 20 months is being secretly negotiated, to help keep the DUP on board despite cabinet pressure to limit it, according to the Guardian. How those ministers and backbench militant Brexiteers will react may be guessed at. How this solves the backstop problem is also unclear, rather than kicking the can down the road.
Secret plans to allow an extension of the transition period in the Brexit withdrawal agreement could result in the UK living under all EU rules well beyond the 21-months so far negotiated, the Guardian can reveal.
The expected offer of an extension is designed to convince Arlene Foster, the leader of the Democratic Unionist party, that the “backstop” plan to avoid the creation of a hard border on the island of Ireland will never come into force.
If such a clause was triggered, the whole of the country would be locked into a prolonged period of what EU diplomats have previously described as a state of “vassalage”, with the House of Commons being forced to accept Brussels regulations without having any say on them.
It is also likely that the UK would need to make additional budget contributions on top of its £39bn divorce bill to cover the extra timeit would benefit from EU membership. It would not, however, have any representation in the bloc’s decision-making institutions despite the extra period under EU law.
The plan to include an extension clause in the withdrawal agreement is being discussed privately by European commission and UK negotiators at the talks in Brussels, senior EU sources told the Guardian. The length of any extension is yet to be agreed. A European commission spokesman declined to comment.
As the DUP hunker down for a pow-wow in Portadown, Rick Wilford, doyen of political analysts, tactfully offers Mrs Foster some sagacious advice
Mrs Foster should be wary of overplaying the DUP’s hand at Westminster, not least in a context where English public opinion in particular is not unreservedly sympathetic to Northern Ireland.
That is to say, her political skills and policy vision need to transcend a narrow and unnecessarily limiting understanding of Brexit. A display of emotional intelligence by the DUP leader – and other party leaders for that matter – that demonstrates pragmatism rather than blind faith, which embraces accommodation instead of rigidity, should be perceived as strength of political leadership, not a weakness.
We need to remember that whatever the Brexit outcome may be – hard, soft, or something in between – it will not damage the principle of consent upon which Northern Ireland’s constitutional future rests
The EU have been also been trying to outflank the DUP altogether with NI business who are desperate for a deal .
Sabine Weyand, the deputy to the chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, told a delegation of Northern Irish business leaders invited to Brussels this week that the deal on the table was “the best the EU has ever offered any country in the world”.
She told them it would give Northern Ireland businesses “unfettered access” to both the single market and Britain and is a “really big deal” for the EU, according to those present.
The best of both worlds narrative is part of a fresh offensive by the EU to try to avert a no-deal by appealing directly to the hearts and minds of Northern Ireland interests.
Contrast Arlene: Far from being the best of both worlds, the EU plan “is the worst of one world”.
Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London