Robert Peston Robert Peston

Is the EU about to offer a time-limited backstop?

This morning when Angela Merkel told Boris Johnson his Brexit offer did not provide the requisite confidence that the border on the island of Ireland would be kept open while preserving the integrity of the EU’s single market, it looked as though any Brexit deal was dead – and that the Prime Minister would therefore now focus all his efforts on achieving a no-deal Brexit, while MPs would focus all theirs on forcing him to ask for a Brexit delay.

Tonight the president of the European Parliament, David Maria Sassoli, met Johnson and reinforced Merkel’s message that the British offer falls well short.

So a Brexit deal is all over bar the shouting? Not quite, but almost.

Technical talks between the Article 50 Taskforce and the UK’s negotiator rumble on.

And the Irish PM Leo Varadkar tried to be more emollient in his chat with Johnson this afternoon. He said that the backstop and membership of the customs union, so hated by Northern Ireland’s DUP – Johnson’s unionist allies – would only be temporary, seemingly contradicting what Merkel said (though my German sources insist Johnson over-reacted to Merkel simply saying that the original backstop, which would potentially have kept the UK or NI in the customs union forever, is the sole idea that so far solves the so-called Ireland problem).

All of which suggests that towards the end of this week the EU will moot a possible deal-saving compromise, namely keeping Northern Ireland in the backstop for a specified and limited number of years.

A Brexit agreement snatched from the jaws of mutual intergovernmental abuse? Very doubtful.

‘We will say no [to a time-limited backstop]’ said a Downing Street official.

Which may prompt a bit of argy bargy in cabinet. However only four ministers – Morgan, Smith, Buckland and Hancock – might put their jobs on the line to prevent rejection of a temporary NI-only backstop in preference to no deal.

Already a subscriber? Log in

Keep reading with a free trial

Subscribe and get your first month of online and app access for free. After that it’s just £1 a week.

There’s no commitment, you can cancel any time.


Unlock more articles


Robert Peston
Written by
Robert Peston
Robert Peston is Political Editor of ITV News and host of the weekly political discussion show Peston. His articles originally appeared on his ITV News blog.

Topics in this article


Don't miss out

Join the conversation with other Spectator readers. Subscribe to leave a comment.

Already a subscriber? Log in