No UK ministers will be resigning over Brexit backstop

Michel Barnier

He further noted that Britain's "backstop" proposal for avoiding controls at the Irish border raises more questions than answers, warning that Brussels would never accept an end-date being included in the plan.

But, with separate talks also starting on how a future EU-UK trading relationship may work, negotiations are deadlocked over how to achieve that while neither leaving a back door for British goods to enter the EU nor raising new hurdles for commerce between Northern Ireland and the British mainland.

"Backstop means backstop", he said. Leading up to the publication of the UK document, there had been speculation that the UK Brexit negotiator, David Davis, was ready to quit unless the UK backstop proposal was truly time limited.

There have been numerous calls for Northern Ireland to remain in the EU customs union - even if the rest of the United Kingdom leaves as expected - to prevent the need for border checks.

And even though many welcomed the end of the wait for a decision, including the deputy leader of Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party which supports the government, several lawmakers criticised the "fudge".

"Beyond these there are two other areas of major disagreements: governance of the withdrawal agreement, and questions on Northern Ireland". After much toing and froing, the technical document on a "temporary customs arrangement" was published this afternoon (7 June), Catherine Feore looks at what lies within.

"Is it a workable solution to avoid a hard border?"

Theresa May has insisted the backstop customs proposal which triggered a Cabinet row would be time-limited - but refused to give a guarantee that it would not extend beyond December 2021. "We need regulatory alignment to avoid a hard border".

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It calls for Britain to temporarily align with European Union customs rules after Brexit as a fall-back option to resolve the Irish border problem but only until 2021. However, it wants a mechanism to be agreed to ensure that the UK's national interest is represented in negotiations up until its formal departure; this may be somewhere where the European Union could make a concession, but in no sense would it be obliged to. "How does that fit with the requirements of our Value-Added Tax system?"

"We are today at a time of decisions and choices".

"I don't believe that we should get involved in any backstop proposals, but at least we can see the end of the tunnel", said David Jones, a Conservative former Brexit minister, expressing doubt over whether the European Union would accept the proposal.

Best for Britain is targeting Labour MPs, but also needs at least 10 Conservative "rebels" if it is to win a vote in Parliament on an amendment calling for a new referendum - which is opposed by both the Conservative and Labour front benches.

The prime minister's spokesman said: "There isn't going to be a second referendum".

May's Northern Irish allies called that "an outrageous attempt to revert to the annexation of Northern Ireland".

She said: "This is about peace, not Brexit".