Ministers meet amid Brexit ‘backstop’ row

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Theresa May meets senior ministers later to try to resolve tensions over the UK’s Brexit “backstop” plan.

In the proposal the UK would match EU tariffs temporarily in order to avoid a hard Irish border post-Brexit.

Number 10 had been expected to publish the “temporary customs arrangement” on Thursday, but faced resistance from Brexit Secretary David Davis.

Brexiteers are concerned that without a fixed end date the arrangement could continue indefinitely.

The UK is due to leave the EU in March 2019, and the government is trying to make progress before a crucial meeting of EU leaders later this month.

BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg said Downing Street believed it had enough support from senior ministers to publish the “backstop” proposal.

“But what they hadn’t quite bargained for was the level of resistance from the man who is meant to be in charge of this process (Mr Davis),” who wants a time limit added to the backstop, she said.

She added that it was possible that the saga could potentially lead to the resignation of Mr Davis, but that it was not likely at this stage.

What is the customs ‘backstop’ issue?

The UK has said it will leave the EU’s customs union – which allows trade within the EU without any tariffs or many border checks – but has yet to agree on what will replace it.

The UK and the EU are still trying to agree how trade in goods will operate after Brexit – but they have agreed that a “backstop” option is needed in case no deal is done, to avoid the return of a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

The UK has said that the EU’s initial “backstop” proposal – effectively keeping Northern Ireland in the customs union – would create what amounted to a border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK and was not acceptable.

Instead, the UK is proposing a “backstop” option which will see the whole of the UK temporarily aligned with the EU’s customs union after December 2020 – when the 21-month post-Brexit transition period ends.

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Your guide to Brexit jargon

The plan, which Theresa May has said would only apply in a “limited set of circumstances”, would see the UK match EU tariffs in order to avoid border checks and allow it to sign and implement its own trade deals.

The BBC understands the plan circulated among some ministers on Wednesday morning refers explicitly to the whole of the UK rather than just to Northern Ireland.

Pressed on the issue at Prime Minister’s Questions, Theresa May insisted the UK was on track to leave the EU in March 2019 and that the transition period would last no longer than 31 December 2020.

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