Business Group Forms to Help Solve Controversial Brexit “Backstop”
The Business and Trade Union Alternative Arrangements Advisory Group will look for ways to maintain the flow of goods between Ireland and Northern Ireland post-Brexit—without a controversial “backstop” measure.
The United Kingdom’s painful Brexit process has had a key sticking point that’s proven difficult to move past: the “backstop,” an agreement between the U.K. and the Republic of Ireland to keep the border with Northern Ireland open for business.
It’s a highly technical issue, but here’s the crux of the matter, courtesy of the New York Times: Without the backstop provision, when the United Kingdom separates from the European Union, a physical barrier with checkpoints would be needed at the border to control the flow of goods between an EU country and a non-EU country. But keeping the provision would also keep the U.K. tied to the EU’s customs union, which Brexit hard-liners oppose.
Now, a new coalition—the Business and Trade Union Alternative Arrangements Advisory Group, made up of officials from organizations in Ireland, Northern Ireland, and the rest of the U.K.—will look for another way to resolve the issue.
“The development of alternative arrangements to replace the backstop has been recognized as a priority by both the UK Government and the EU Commission. Accordingly, we have a highly informed group of experts in trade and customs focused on developing and testing workable solutions,” Brexit Minister Robin Walker, who will cochair the new group, said in a news release. “But it is vital that any possible alternatives to the backstop are informed by the views of those on the ground, whose goods cross the border every single day.”
According to the Irish Examiner, the United Kingdom will devote £20 million ($25.3 million) to finding workable alternatives to the backstop.
A variety of trade groups and unions from both countries—including the British Irish Chamber of Commerce, the Northern Ireland Meat Exporters Association, British Retail Consortium NI, and the Irish Congress of Trade Unions—will take part in the advisory group. The new group will work directly with the Technical Alternative Arrangements Advisory Group, an organization of trade and customs experts that are also looking for alternatives to the backstop.
The controversy over the backstop highlights the complexity of the British breakup with the EU. But it also reflects a long-running geopolitical conflict between the Irish republic and its northern neighbor that was largely resolved with the 1998 Good Friday agreement, which is widely viewed as incompatible with a hard border between the two countries.