Brexit backstop – backdoor to no stop?

Brexit rumbles on. But is the backstop just a back door route to no stop? And how much longer can it last – including David Davis’ time in charge?

Brexit rumbles on, in its usual all-consuming fashion. Across the benches, country and continent, a potent mix of confusion, derision and indecision reign.

The war cabinet or Strategy and Negotiations Committee continues to debate future relationship options, veering between the Brexiteers’ MaxFac (maximum-facilitation) favourite and the Remainers’ customs arrangement preference. Theresa May and her Brexit guru Olly Robbins have produced and proposed a backstop – a default position in the event of no agreement.

This ‘backstop’ proposal seeks to avoid the March 2019 Brexit cliff-edge that looms if no deal is agreed or the necessary technology for a friction-less Irish border is not ready. The hope is to avoid a hard border and maintain access to European markets, under current rules, for all UK business.

Conservative Brexiteers, led by the usual faces of David Davis, Liam Fox and Jacob Rees-Mogg and emboldened by the European Research Group, have argued this is a backdoor attempt irretrievably and indefinitely to tie the UK to the EU and its institutions. They want to force the government to stipulate a time-limit, something the original copy did not include, to guarantee the backstop …stops, exactly a year after the transition period ends.

In theory an agreed backstop would allow financial services additional time, beyond the transition period, to implement all the necessary Brexit related change projects.  With ever-increasing amounts of legal information about the future EU-UK relationship, it could allow institutions to make better informed, long-term decisions.

But like all things Brexit, the premise is fogged by uncertainty. Brexit Secretary David Davis had rejected it, prior to the inserting of a time limit, threatening once again to resign, as his running disagreement with Olly Robbins continues.

This internal fiasco comes at a critical time in the Brexit negotiations. We are now entering what should be the legislative phase, where critical questions should be answered, perhaps irreversibly changing the UK’s future.  Now, the questions are:

  • Can May maintain a majority for her proposals?
  • Will the losses suffered at the hands of the House of Lords critically delay the EU Withdrawal Bill?
  • Will the UK have a unified negotiating position by the end of June EU-UK summit?
  • And most importantly, will there be a significant agreement for future relations between the UK parliament and UK before March 2019?

As ever ambiguity is the order of the day. While the proposal is a favourable one for financial services, given the current climate it would be no surprise if it was consigned to the rubbish bin of history before many hours are out.

Note: This opinion piece was first published by Catalyst prior to the Sionic merger