To avoid a hard border with Ireland and make a hotly contested “backstop” for Northern Ireland unnecessary, British negotiators reportedly urged the European Union to accept assurances Britain would effectively stay in a customs union with the bloc. This is according to EU diplomats on October 15.
But diplomatic sources briefed on the October 14 breakdown in Brexit talks, told the Reuters news agency that the EU insisted that an insurance policy to keep Northern Ireland alone inside the EU’s economic zone is still vital – something London says it cannot accept, according to the Reuters news agency.
The EU position, the sources told Reuters, is that London’s assurances of maintaining EU-UK customs links to avoid a hard border are mere aspirations, and cannot be sealed into treaty law before Britain leaves the bloc in March, hence the backstop.
That so-called backstop agreement on Northern Ireland is the one major issue to thwart hopes of having a draft withdrawal agreement ready for EU leaders to approve on October 17.
According to Reuters, EU negotiators discussed possibly extending Britain’s status-quo transition period by a year until the end of 2021 as a way to give London more time to agree the EU-UK customs deal it wants to solve the Irish border issue. But that failed to end Britain’s objections to any Northern Ireland-only backstop.
Meanwhile, France is reportedly among the member states calling for a firm EU response to British Prime Minister Theresa May’s failure to agree to the backstop. Diplomats told Reuters that Paris is urging the EU executive to step its planning for a possible “no deal” scenario in March, to ensure businesses and ordinary people have some certainty about how Brexit will affect them.