EU insisted on backstop at too early a stage in Brexit talks

News Letter editorial
News Letter editorial

It is said that the Brexiteers and the DUP have been uncompromising on the EU Withdrawal Agreement (WA).

In fact, the eurosceptic European Research Group of backbench Tory MPs and the DUP were clearly moving towards acceptance of the WA.

That would have been a massive compromise and sign of goodwill. What they wanted was, initially, removal of the backstop. Then they wanted a time limit. Latterly, they were open to watertight legal assurances.

There are sound constitutional arguments, outlined by the Tory MEP Dan Hannan and others, that accepting legally binding documents alongside the WA would have been a nonsense, and that the EU’s refusal to reopen the WA meant that the deal should never have been accepted.

But despite this willingness to compromise, the EU over-stretched itself. Not in recent days — in recent days it was moving and perhaps even putting some pressure on Dublin. Angela Merkel had talked of the need for creative solutions.

No, the EU overstretched itself at the beginning by insisting on a backstop that had massive, and unknowable, constitutional implications at such an early stage in the withdrawal negotiations.

The UK should have rejected that then and Theresa May has created no end of trouble by not doing so.

A delay to the UK’s departure is now essential. In fact supporters of Brexit should have been realistic months ago, and pushed for July 1 as the date (apparently the last legal date at which a member state does not need to have MPs).

That would increase the time available for a managed no deal exit.

It is encouraging that amid the chaos a range of Tory MPs, from moderate pro Europeans to the ERG, backed by the DUP, is now considering the Malthouse compromise, in which the UK leaves but extends the transition period by a year until late 2021 to allow more time to agree a trading relationship.