Se­cret Brexit plans to ap­pease DUP re­vealed

Ef­fort to avoid Irish back­stop would re­sult in UK be­ing EU ‘rule taker’ be­yond 21 months

Gulf Times - - BRITAIN/IRELAND - By Daniel Bof­fey and Heather Ste­wart

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 (DUP), that the “back­stop” plan to avoid the cre­ation of a hard bor­der on the island of Ire­land will never come into force.

A longer tran­si­tion pe­riod would mean 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.

The rev­e­la­tion came as EU am­bas­sadors were in­formed at a meet­ing on Fri­day evening that, fol­low­ing fur­ther con­ces­sions by the UK, good progress was be­ing made on a Brexit deal in the ne­go­ti­a­tions and re­sults could be made pub­lic as early as to­mor­row should ex­tra ground be made on the Irish bor­der is­sue over the week­end.

Sabine Weyand, the EU’s deputy chief ne­go­tia­tor, told the 27-mem­ber states that the state of play would be as­sessed by the ne­go­ti­at­ing teams this evening.

EU of­fi­cials re­main wary, how­ever, that de­vel­op­ments in the UK could still de­rail the deal.

In cur­rent plans, the back­stop, un­der which the whole of the UK would stay in a cus­toms union while North­ern Ire­land alone ef­fec­tively stayed in the sin­gle mar­ket, would be en­acted in De­cem­ber 2020 if a be­spoke tech­no­log­i­cal so­lu­tion or trade deal could not be reached by then.

Foster has in­sisted that she will not ac­cept any Brexit deal un­der which North­ern Ire­land is treated dif­fer­ently to the rest of the UK.

Se­nior Brex­iters, in­clud­ing the Com­mons leader, An­drea Lead­som, are un­der­stood to be plan­ning to at­tend cabi­net next week be­fore de­cid­ing on whether to re­sign.

There was alarm about the lan­guage used by Down­ing Street on Fri­day that Theresa May “would never agree to a deal that would trap the UK in a back­stop per­ma­nently”.

They were con­cerned, sources said, about any back­stop pro­posal that risks the UK stay­ing in the cus­toms union with­out a clear date for ex­it­ing it.

The plan to in­clude an ex­ten­sion clause in the with­drawal agree­ment would be a way to as­suage con­cerns.

It is be­ing dis­cussed pri­vately by Euro­pean com­mis­sion and UK ne­go­tia­tors at the talks in Brus­sels.

The length of any ex­ten­sion is yet to be agreed.

It is likely that the UK would need to make ad­di­tional bud­get con­tri­bu­tions on top of its £39bn di­vorce bill to cover the ex­tra time it would ben­e­fit from EU mem­ber­ship.

It would not, how­ever, have any rep­re­sen­ta­tion in the bloc’s de­ci­sion-mak­ing in­sti­tu­tions.

Jean-Claude Juncker, the Euro­pean com­mis­sion pres­i­dent, ex­pressed his con­fi­dence on Fri­day that a deal would be struck for the prime min­is­ter to sell back home.

“Peo­ple who put all their chips on the hy­poth­e­sis of no agree­ment are wrong; we must find an ac­cord and I think we will find it,” he told Le Monde.

“We need to make sub­stan­tial progress, which we’ll re­view next week,” Juncker added, re­fer­ring to a lead­ers’ sum­mit that will start on Wed­nes­day night with a din­ner at which Brexit will be the fo­cus of the dis­cus­sion.

A se­nior EU diplo­mat said that the Brexit sec­re­tary, Do­minic Raab, could ar­rive at the Euro­pean com­mis­sion to­mor­row, should a deal be agreed dur­ing in­ten­sive talks over the week­end.

“Mr Raab has stated he might come to Brus­sels on Mon­day,” the diplo­mat said. “It all de­pends on progress still hav­ing to be made be­tween now and that mo­ment. The ne­go­ti­at­ing teams are back in their of­fices to­day dis­cussing out­come of talks over the last few days.”

May asked in Septem­ber last year for a tran­si­tion pe­riod, which she op­ti­misti­cally de­scribed in her Florence speech at the time as a pe­riod of im­ple­men­ta­tion of as­pects of the fu­ture trade deal, in­clud­ing mi­gra­tion con­trols.

The prime min­is­ter had said it would be “lim­ited” to a pe­riod of about two years.

She had added that she did not be­lieve the Bri­tish peo­ple would “want the UK to stay longer in the ex­ist­ing struc­tures than is nec­es­sary”.

Liam Fox, the in­ter­na­tional trade sec­re­tary, sug­gested soon af­ter that he would only be open to an ex­ten­sion if it proved nec­es­sary to ne­go­ti­ate a trade deal.

The prime min­is­ter’s spokes­woman said on Fri­day: “When we pub­lished our plans in June on a UK-wide cus­toms back­stop, we were ab­so­lutely clear that the ar­range­ment would be tem­po­rary, and only in place un­til our fu­ture eco­nomic re­la­tion­ship is ready.”

Mu­jtaba Rah­man, a for­mer Trea­sury and Euro­pean com­mis­sion of­fi­cial, and now head of Europe for the Eura­sia Group risk con­sul­tancy, said that an ex­tra six months would be needed if only for a trade deal to be ne­go­ti­ated and rat­i­fied by all the mem­ber states’ par­lia­ments.

“The UK has no choice but to ask for a mech­a­nism to ex­tend the tran­si­tion, not least to fur­ther mol­lify the DUP,” Rah­man said. “But do­ing so is also a recog­ni­tion of re­al­ity: both the UK and the EU’s po­lit­i­cal lead­er­ship will change next year, mean­ing sub­stan­tive trade ne­go­ti­a­tions are un­likely to be­gin un­til Septem­ber 2019 at the ear­li­est.”

Ja­cob Rees-Mogg, the chair of the Euro­pean Re­search Group, said that ex­tend­ing the tran­si­tion “would not nec­es­sar­ily make the back­stop re­dun­dant and would be very ex­pen­sive” be­cause of the ex­pected ad­di­tional con­tri­bu­tions to the EU bud­get.

Ar­lene Foster (right) has told Theresa May that the DUP will not ac­cept any Brexit deal which treats North­ern Ire­land dif­fer­ently to the rest of the UK.

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