In Boris Johnson’s first speech as Prime Minister, he said to “our friends in Ireland, and in Brussels and around the EU” that he was “convinced we can do a deal without checks at the Irish Border”. He called the Brexit backstop plan “anti-democratic” and has since vowed to “get rid” of it. EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier swiftly responded that doing so was “of course unacceptable”.
Preparations for a no deal Brexit continue across the EU, with Mr Johnson’s promises to leave on Halloween “do or die” worrying policy-makers and businesses on the continent and at home.
However, the mood in Dublin appears to remain resolute as the EU holds fast on the Withdrawal Agreement.
Irish taoiseach, Leo Varadkar has shown little signs of buckling to Mr Johnson, delivering a tone which might, in turn, worry the Johnson administration.
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Brexit news: Leo Varadkar has shown little signs of buckling to Boris Johnson
Speaking outside Number 10, Mr Johnson simply said: “Never mind the backstop, the buck stops here”.
There has yet been no public proposals for how to navigate the tricky border situation in Ireland from Mr Johnson’s team.
After Mr Johnson’s speech, Mr Varadkar said: “Confidence and enthusiasm is not a substitute for European policy.”
He added a “whole new” Brexit deal was “not going to happen” and said the idea of negotiating an entirely new deal “within weeks or months” was “not in the real world”.
Brexit news: Preparations for a no deal Brexit continue across the EU
What is the Brexit backstop?
The backstop is a safety net for the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland – the only land border the UK shares with the EU.
This is intended to prevent a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic, regardless of what happens in negotiations.
The backstop, which would allow frictionless trade to continue in Ireland until a solution was found, is a “last resort” and would only be triggered if no trade deal was negotiated.
So, even if the rest of the UK leaves the EU with no trade or security arrangements, there won’t suddenly be border checks and restrictions on the island of Ireland.
Brexit news: The backstop is intended to prevent a hard border
At present, goods and services are traded between the two jurisdictions with few restrictions.
As the UK and Ireland are currently part of the EU single market and customs union, products do not need to be inspected for customs and standards, but after Brexit, all that could change.
In addition to this, and creating a catch-22, is the worry of creating a hard border down the Irish sea – cutting off Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK.
Essentially, if the Irish border remains fluid, there would still need to be checks in place for goods in and out of the rest of the UK and EU.
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Brexit news: The border between Northern Ireland and the Republic
If there is no hard border in Ireland, those goods will need to be checked in ports, meaning trade between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK would be stilted.
So a hard border in Ireland won’t work, and a border in the Irish sea won’t work.
And why do we need to have a border of some sorts? Because the UK has insisted it will leave the EU single market and customs union.
That means, somehow, everything in and out of the UK to and from the EU needs to go through a border check.