European Union negotiators have predicted the backstop, an insurance policy to avoid a hard border on Ireland after Brexit, could be in place for over a decade while technological alternatives are developed. Brexiteers rejected Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement three times in Parliament amid fears that the backstop could leave Britain permanently trapped in a customs union with the EU. Despite its stunning defeat, Brussels bureaucrats have ignored the looming threat of a no-deal Brexit and refused to renegotiate the backstop.
EU leaders have instead offered new Prime Minister Boris Johnson the opportunity to tweak the political declaration, the aspirational wish list for the future relationship, to present a clearer path to how the backstop can be avoided.
But Brussels isn’t entirely convinced that so-called alternative arrangements, such as trusted trader systems and high-tech monitoring systems, favoured by Brexiteers will be operational until at least 2030.
Gregor Schusterschitz, Austria’s Brexit point man, told the ZiB 2 news programme: “We have thought about several options of how this Northern Ireland problem can be solved.
“There are basically two options: Northern Ireland remains in the EU’s customs union or all of Great Britain remains in the EU’s customs area.
“This is the only solution to prevent a hard border in Northern Ireland. There very often is this myth of alternative arrangements that could be found, technical solutions. But, they don’t exist yet – maybe in 10 or 15 years time.
“But the way the situation is right now, there are only those two solutions. And one of the two has to be chosen. We might also prefer a different solution, but we don’t see one and there is nothing coming from Great Britain.”
Despite Mr Johnson insisting that the backstop must go before a Brexit deal can be done with Brussels, EU diplomats and officials don’t believe such a move would win a majority in the House of Commons.
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He blamed a “terrible collaboration” of Remainer MPs and EU bureaucrats for an effort to thwart Britain’s departure from the bloc on October 31.
“There is a terrible collaboration going on between people who think they can block Brexit in Parliament and our European friends,” the Prime Minister said during the live Facebook Q&A session.
“Our European friends are not moving in their willingness to compromise, they are not compromising at all with the withdrawal agreement.
“Although it has been thrown out three times, they are sticking with every letter – including the backstop, because they still think that Brexit can be blocked in Parliament.”
Mr Johnson insisted the longer Brussels continues to show intransigence at the negotiating table will only increase the chances of no deal.
He added he still wants to leave the bloc without a deal but is committed to leaving on the October 31 at Britain’s divorce date.
“The awful thing is, the longer this goes on the more likely it is, of course, we will be forced to leave with a no-deal Brexit,” he said.
“That is not what I want, not what we are aiming for, but we need our European friends to compromise. The more they think there is a chance Brexit can be blocked in Parliament, the more adamant they are in sticking to their position.
“I remain confident we will get there. We will come out of the European Union on October 31.
“In the end, both our friends in other European capitals and MPs will see it is vital to get on and to do it.”
Additional reporting by Monika Pallenberg