The UK government has submitted documents to the European Commission that outline in writing for the first time Boris Johnson’s ideas on how to end the Brexit impasse, three sources have told BuzzFeed News.
The text sets out some of the UK’s initial thoughts on how to get around the issue of the so-called backstop. The sources would not be drawn into the precise details of the content of the documents submitted by the UK, with one of them stressing, however, the need to keep expectations in check.
The backstop is an insurance policy guaranteeing that the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland remains open after Brexit in all circumstances and scenarios, while also protecting the integrity of the EU’s single market. The UK and the EU both committed to keeping the border open in December 2017, but Johnson has repeatedly pledged to ditch the backstop.
On Wednesday, Antti Rinne, the prime minister of Finland — which currently holds the rotating presidency of the European Council — warned that Johnson had to send concrete proposals by the end of this month if there was to be any chance of an agreement when the leaders of the EU’s remaining 27 member states meet in Brussels Oct. 17–18.
In recent weeks, there has been much speculation that Johnson could move towards a Northern Ireland–only backstop, which would effectively maintain the status quo in Northern Ireland by keeping it in the single market and customs union until an alternative arrangement could be found that would avoid hard border with the Republic of Ireland. Such an option, which would allow the rest of the UK to diverge from the EU’s regulatory regime and standards, was first proposed by the EU some two years ago. Brussels has consistently said that it remains on the table.
Johnson's predecessor as prime minister, Theresa May rejected the solution, however, saying that no British prime minister could ever accept it because it would undermine the constitutional integrity of the UK.
But, while the UK government has indicated a willingness to consider a single regulatory regime north and south of the Irish border for food and agriculture as well as sanitary and phytosanitary measures (known as SPS), the EU and the 27 governments have been clear that this proposal alone would not meet all the requirements of the backstop: keeping the border in Ireland open in all circumstances and protecting the all-Ireland economy and the integrity of the single market. The 27 have been adamant that any alternative to the backstop must achieve all these same effects.
The EU27 were informed on Thursday that the UK sent three documents — on SPS, customs and manufactured goods. The documents were labelled as “HMG property”, and the British government asked for them not to be forwarded onto member states. The EU's negotiators will brief diplomats from the 27 governments on the documents and the latest state of talks tomorrow.
The documents are understood to put in writing some of these ideas the UK has presented in recent talks with the EU — and do not amount to fully fledged proposals.
A Downing Street spokesperson said: “We have now shared in written form a series of confidential technical non-papers which reflect the ideas the UK has been putting forward."
The term "non-paper" is a technical term used in international negotiations to describe informal proposals to be discussed.
The spokesperson added: "We will table formal written solutions when we are ready, not according to an artificial deadline, and when the EU is clear that it will engage constructively on them as a replacement for the backstop."