EU to offer “UK-wide customs treaty” and the backstop clause has changed


The Sun and the Mail claim another “breakthrough” – but is it too good to be true?

THERESA May got a Brexit boost today – as it emerged the EU will cave into her demands on the Irish backstop.

But today RTE reported that the EU has accepted Mrs May’s plans could be workable as long as both sides sign a separate treaty to enshrine it into law.

The compromise brings Britain and the EU a step closer to signing a deal which would ensure a smooth Brexit next year.

In response to Mrs May’s proposal for a UK/EU “customs arrangement” , one of four “tests” she proposed yesterday, RTE’s Tony Connelly actually reported:

The Withdrawal Agreement will contain a specific commitment to a UK-wide customs arrangement by way of a legal article, but that commitment will say that a formal EU-UK customs union will require a separate agreement. However, the EU, and the Irish Government still insist that a Northern Ireland-specific backstop remains in place, even if a separate UK-wide customs arrangement is negotiated… The text will say that in the event of the Northern-Ireland specific backstop coming into effect, a separate annexe will set out how that would work.

That annexe will refer to the EU’s Union Customs Code (UCC) applying in Northern Ireland, according to a draft text. These drafts could change further when negotiations resume. Officials say such an agreement would be highly complex and would take some time to negotiate.

“That’s complicated,” one EU source told RTÉ News. “It’s much more complicated than it sounds.The first point is the legal basis. You can’t do it under Article 50. That’s always been our stance. The second point is the practical aspects. It’s very complicated to work out all the details in a short period of time. These things need to be negotiated properly.”

The EU will want to know which part of the Union Customs Code acquis (body of law) the UK is willing to swallow in order to be part of such a customs union. In particular, it would have to be decided whether or not the UK will seek to negotiate, sign and implement its own trade deals, or whether it will still avail of free trade agreements (FTAs) the EU currently has with third countries.

The EU will also need to know whether, as it continues to negotiate its own trade deals around the world, it is doing so on behalf of 27 or 28 countries.

The idea of the UK being able to negotiate on behalf of EU 27 has been floated in debate before but  dismissed as far fetched – up to now.   If confirmed it could become part of a new mutually beneficial free trade  relationship

The other problem is regulatory compliance.

In order to avoid checks for industrial goods, live animals and food products on the Irish border, there would have to be alignment of the EU’s single market rules. However, a UK-wide backstop does not address that issue, implying that some kinds of checks would be required between GB and Northern Ireland.

The FT suggests that all the EU has offered is a “tweak.

Brussels is offering to remove the most contentious phrase from its Brexit plans for Northern Ireland in a bid to break the deadlock in negotiations with London. Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, is prepared to delete references to Northern Ireland staying within the bloc’s “customs territory”, a term that has raised hackles in London.  … The EU’s revised backstop draft removes the bluntest language in the original proposal, but retains many of the accompanying legal obligations, meaning that the outcome is likely to remain the same..

As well as the reference to a “customs territory”, Mr Barnier’s team have excised some headings that may upset unionists in London. Instead the draft is now packed with “impenetrable” legal references to multiple laws, according to one EU official. These include references to regulation No 952/2013, the “union customs code”, laying out the rules of the EU’s customs territory that Northern Ireland would apply.

Meanwhile, as Mrs May‘s prepares to “confront” her backbenchers, the Brexiteers are about to repeat their Grand Old Duke of York Act again, according to the well- informed Spectator.