The Backstop is Gone. Welcome to the Backstop.
The key issue in the last few months of Brexit negotiations has been the Irish border. In essence, with the United Kingdom outside the EU and the Republic of Ireland inside, there would be a hard border between the two parts of Ireland. Nobody wanted this, as it could undermine the Northern Ireland peace process, of which an open border was a key part.
There are two parts to the border issue: the EU single market, which avoids different regulations on products; and the customs union, which avoids tariffs on trade in goods. Theresa May’s deal would have kept Northern Ireland largely within the EU system of regulation. This would eliminate checks at the Irish border but put in checks between Northern Ireland and Great Britain, the so-called ‘border in the Irish sea’. The EU would also have accepted that Northern Ireland remain in the customs union but this was unacceptable to Northern Ireland unionists. So the whole of the UK was to remain in the customs union, which was unacceptable to hard Brexiters in Parliament. These provisions, known as the Irish backstop, could be superseded by a future overall trading agreement between the EU and the UK. The Political Statement on the Future Relationship suggested that this might be close enough to dispense with the backstop.
The new deal is largely the same but with some critical differences. Northern Ireland will remain aligned…