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What is the Backstop?

Article 1(3) of a specific Protocol in the Draft Withdrawal Agreement (DWA) on the UK’s exit from the EU on Ireland and Northern Ireland “sets out arrangements necessary to address the unique circumstances on the island of Ireland, maintain the necessary conditions for continued North-South cooperation, avoid a hard border and protect the 1998 Agreement in all its dimensions.”

This is referred to as the “backstop” or the insurance policy which will only come into force if no agreement is reached by the end of the transition period (including a possible extended period) on a future UK-EU relationship which achieves the same objectives as the backstop.

The backstop will apply until such time as it is jointly agreed by the EU and the UK that it is superseded.

The political declaration states that “facilitative arrangements and technologies will also be considered in developing any alternative arrangements for ensuring the absence of a hard border on the island of Ireland on a permanent footing.”

How would the Backstop work?

  • A single EU-UK wide customs territory would be put in place so as to avoid the need for tariffs, quotas or rules of origin checks between the UK and the EU (some exceptions for fishery and aquaculture products).
  • NI businesses would not face restrictions when placing products on the EU’s single market.
  • There would be an agreed set of measures to ensure a level playing field between the EU and UK, including competition, State aid, taxation, environment and labour policy.
  • The UK would harmonise its commercial policy with the EU’s common commercial policy to the extent necessary for the functioning of the single customs territory.
  • The Union would apply its trade defence policy and Generalised System of Preferences to both parts of the single customs territory
  • In addition, NI would remain aligned to a limited set of EU rules related to the single market, including legislation on goods standards, sanitary rules for veterinary controls, rules on agricultural production / marketing and VAT and excise in respect of goods.