May’s ‘secret’ Brexit deal avoids Irish backstop – report

Theresa May has secured concessions from Brussels to keep the whole of Britain in a customs union in the aftermath of Brexit – avoiding a hard Irish border, The Sunday Times reports.

The agreement would avoid the European Union’s “backstop” solution that would have treated Northern Ireland differently from the rest of Britain.

It will also include an “exit clause” designed to convince Brexiteers that remaining in the customs union is only temporary, the newspaper said.

The Irish border has proved the biggest obstacle to a deal, with both sides vowing not to reinstate a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland for fear of destabilising the peace agreement.

Under the agreed deal, the EU accepts that regulatory checks on goods can be carried out in factories and shops rather than at the border, the Sunday Times said.

The deal keeps open the possibility of Britain securing a future free trade agreement similar to the one signed between Canada and the EU in 2016.

Preparations for a final deal are reportedly “far more advanced than previously disclosed”, and will lead to a document of around 50 pages being published.

The cabinet will meet on Tuesday to discuss Mrs May’s plan, and she hopes there will be enough progress by Friday for the European Union to announce a special summit, the report said.

Parliament would then vote on the deal in December.

A Downing Street spokesman called the newspaper report “speculation”.

He said: “The prime minister has been clear that we are making good progress on the future relationship and 95% of the withdrawal agreement is now settled and negotiations are ongoing.”

Sky’s political correspondent Lewis Goodall said if Conservative Brexiteers are unconvinced that the customs union is only a temporary measure they would almost certainly rebel.

He said: “It doesn’t solve a fundamental problem, which is that if the agreement is still based on the Chequers plan – if it involves the so-called common rule book i.e. regulatory alignment of all sorts of manufactured goods between the EU and UK – it will not satisfy the Brexiteers in any way and will be a crucial stumbling block for her.

“I think it would lead to at least a couple of dozen of Conservative MPs voting against her in which case she would need the support of Labour MPs and that is a big ask, as she would be asking them to save her government.”


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