Belfast Telegraph

PM's first bid to replace the backstop rejected in 'disastrous' EU meeting

A plainclothes officer is sent flying as PM Boris Johnson tries to control a bull at a farm in Scotland
A plainclothes officer is sent flying as PM Boris Johnson tries to control a bull at a farm in Scotland

By Eimear McGovern

Boris Johnson's first proposal for a replacement to the backstop has reportedly stalled in the latest "disastrous" meeting between his chief negotiator and the EU.

In a heavily trailed move, the Prime Minister's envoy David Frost yesterday suggested an all-Ireland food standards zone.

The UK Government would seek to give Stormont a say on the arrangement.

But it has been rejected by the EU, with The Guardian reporting that commission negotiators said such a proposal would leave the Republic of Ireland in a constant state of uncertainty about the future.

It comes as EU sources spoke of their doubts over ongoing talks, given the likelihood of an imminent general election and Mr Johnson's insistence that his negotiating position has been wrecked by no-deal being taken off the table.

Mr Johnson has suggested that Northern Ireland should stay aligned with EU standards on agrifoods, which would remove the need for sanitary checks on animals and animal products crossing the border on the island of Ireland.

This measure would not cover other goods and would not address the issue of VAT and customs checks. Mr Johnson has insisted that the backstop must be ditched from the withdrawal agreement.

He also referenced the comments of the former DUP leader Ian Paisley, who had said of Northern Ireland that the people were British but "the cattle were Irish".

The UK has suggested there is a need for Stormont to be able to vote on the continuation of the proposed common regulatory area - a move which has been described by EU officials as "backstop-lite".

EU sources said the suggestion was firmly rebuffed and that recent meetings had been a "disaster", with the gap between the two negotiating teams seemingly widening by the day.

David Frost
David Frost

Further discussions are expected over the UK's alternative to the backstop next week.

Irish government sources are also said to have rejected Mr Johnson's proposal, saying the protection of the economy was a vital part of the Good Friday Agreement and that the responsibility for protecting the peace process lay with Westminster, instead of with Stormont.

The source said: "The EU negotiates with the UK authorities at the departing stage and not its constituent elements. Having Stormont overturn an agreed and ratified agreement at a later stage prior to the backstop entering into force will undermine the withdrawal. A curious ask given the fact that currently Stormont hasn't sat for over two years?"

A UK Government spokesman said: "The Prime Minister's sherpa David Frost and a cross-government team met officials from the commission's A50 taskforce today.

"The UK team presented some preliminary ideas on how any all-island SPS solutions could involve the consent of all parties and institutions with an interest - something the prime minister referred to earlier this week in parliament. The discussions highlighted a number of issues which would need to be considered further and it was agreed that this would be discussed again next week."

Yesterday, Mr Johnson's demand for a general election on his own terms became increasingly far-fetched when opposition leaders agreed to not vote with the PM during his fresh bid.

Jeremy Corbyn spoke with the leaders of the main opposition parties to discuss their resistance to holding a vote before the prospect of a no-deal Brexit on October 31 is eliminated.

Labour, the Liberal Democrats, the SNP and Plaid Cymru are all understood to be planning on voting against or abstaining from the Fixed-Term Parliament Act when it returns to the Commons on Monday.

A further blow was dealt to the PM when Lords approved the legislation aiming to prevent a no-deal on the Halloween deadline, paving the way for it to become law.

It will mean the Government must ask the EU for an extension to the UK's departure - a move Mr Johnson has said would be worse than him being "dead in a ditch".

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