The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) are reportedly continuing discussions with the Government over what terms they would require to back the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal.
Discussions are said to cover issues such as corporation tax and air passenger duty, with the expectation that the Treasury will offer a substantial increase in the Northern Ireland block grant in return for the DUP’s support. The Government, though, are unable to offer any substantial changes to the Backstop – a mechanism to keep Northern Ireland’s economy aligned with the rules and regulations of the EU’s Single Market and so avoid a ‘hard border’ should talks on a comprehensive treaty on future UK - EU relations continue after the end of the ‘transition’ period that would run to the end of 2020 unless the UK asks for a further extension (which can be for up to two years).
If the UK asks for an extension then it will, as a whole, have to continue to pay into the EU budget and implement EU laws without any say. That creates an incentive to instead opt for the backstop which, at the price of imposing checks on intra-UK trade across the Irish Sea, would remove the UK’s budget contributions (beyond those already agreed in the ‘divorce bill’) and would limit the number of EU laws the UK would have to apply to only those needed to implement a bare-bones customs union.
Advice from senior counsel to the People’s Vote campaign concludes that none of the additional materials or proposals from the UK Government have altered the fundamentals of the Backstop – which itself is included in a protocol to the Withdrawal Agreement – which the EU refuse to reopen negotiations on.
Commenting, Ian Murray MP, leading supporter of a People’s Vote, said:
“The DUP’s negotiations with the Government boil down to one thing – what it will cost the UK taxpayer to buy their complicity in imposing the Backstop on Northern Ireland.
“There can be no room for doubt: voting for a deal that includes a Backstop means voting to apply the Backstop – because there is simply no realistic way in which a comprehensive trade and security deal on the future relationship between the UK and the EU can be agreed by July 2020, which will be the deadline for deciding when to apply the Backstop from the end of that year. Particularly if the UK and EU agree to an extension of Article 50, which will further shrink the transition period. Optimists think negotiations will take at least five years, realists would opt for a decade or more.
“Senior lawyers who have examined this could not be clearer: nothing the Government have negotiated with the EU provides a realistic way of unilaterally cancelling the Backstop. Claiming that it is explicitly ‘temporary’ does not wash either: after all, Northern Ireland itself was established as a ‘temporary’ solution to the Home Rule crisis and has now been with us for 97 years.
“And in any deal the Irish side will, unlike the Withdrawal Agreement, have a veto: so there is simply no way that any comprehensive treaty on the future relationship will be in any way a retreat from the principle established by the Backstop: that the economy of Northern Ireland must remain fully integrated with that in the Republic even at the cost of additional checks in the Irish Sea on intra-UK trade.
“In even entering into negotiations with the UK government the DUP are accepting the legitimacy of this approach. All they are now arguing about is how much they will sell their unionist commitment for.
“I have often warned my colleagues in the Labour Party that if they vote for the Government’s deal, or are seen to let it pass by default, they will pay a very heavy electoral price. For the DUP that warning should be doubled. A party founded on loyalty to the Crown seems to be about to declare its true loyalty is to the half-crown, and for that it will never be forgiven.”
Notes to editors
Legal advice to the People’s Vote campaign on the Backstop can be read here: https://bit.ly/2udWNCk