Brexit: Bid to block EU’s Northern Ireland ‘backstop’


Former Brexit minister Steve Baker.


Steve Baker urged the prime minister to change her Brexit plan earlier this month

An ex-minister aims to put a block on the EU’s “backstop” plan for customs arrangements in Northern Ireland should no Brexit deal be in place.

Steve Baker has put down amendments to the Northern Ireland bill, which is to be discussed in Parliament next week.

He wants to make it a legal requirement to get the Stormont Assembly’s approval for any plan to treat Northern Ireland differently from the rest of the UK.

But the devolved government has not sat since power-sharing collapsed in 2017.

The bill aims to give its civil servants greater flexibility in making decisions, in the absence of government.

However, it has drawn the attention of those arguing over plans for the UK’s future trading relationship with the EU.

The backstop is the name that has been given to the contingency that would be put in place to avoid the introduction of checks on the Irish border in the event no trade agreement is struck.

The EU and UK both accept the need for such a measure to avoid a return to a “hard border” with the Irish Republic but disagree over how it should operate.

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The government has proposed a backstop which would effectively keep the whole of the UK in the EU customs union for a limited period, until a comprehensive agreement is reached.

Under the EU’s idea of a contingency plan, Northern Ireland would remain in the EU’s customs union, large parts of the single market and the EU VAT system.

The EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, has continually emphasised that this backstop can only apply to Northern Ireland, meaning that he sees a future where Northern Ireland has a different relationship with the EU to the one the rest of the UK has with the EU.

However, the British government has rejected that as a threat to the integrity of the UK.

Mr Baker, the Tory MP for Wycombe and deputy chairman of the Conservative pro-Brexit European Research Group. said his amendments would ensure that “emergency powers” could not be used to implement measures in the absence of an assembly.

“Northern Ireland is an integral part of the UK.”

“Creating barriers between Northern Ireland and Great Britain, creating a separate regulatory regime or imposing EU laws on Northern Ireland via emergency legislation does not respect Northern Ireland’s status in the UK.”



Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley will table the Northen Ireland bill and believes it will provide an opportunity to restart political talks

BBC political correspondent Jessica Parker said it was unclear what level of support there was for the amendments.

“But negotiators may not welcome any attempt to impose legal limits on the talks which are already at an impasse,” she added.

A government statement said the Northern Ireland bill is intended to provide civil servants with the “certainty and clarity” they needed to deliver public services.

“It enables key appointments that cannot currently be made in the absence of Northern Ireland ministers to be made during the period before an executive is next formed,” the statement added.

“The bill also creates the necessary time and space to restart political talks with the aim of restoring devolved government as soon as possible.”