Theresa May has swerved a cabinet revolt following crisis meetings with David Davis, who was this morning rumoured to be on the cusp of resignation.
Mr Davis had refused to support a proposal that would allow the UK to effectively stay within the EU customs union and single market for an unspecified amount of time as a fall-back position if no border agreement is reached.
Number 10 has now released the position paper, which states that temporary arrangements to prevent a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic should not continue beyond December 2021.
But European Commissioner Guy Verhofstadt poured scorn on the proposal, saying it was ‘difficult to see how UK proposal will deliver a workable solution’.
Difficult to see how UK proposal on customs aspects of IE/NI backstop will deliver a workable solution to avoid a hard border & respect integrity of the SM/CU. A backstop that is temporary is not a backstop, unless the definitive arrangement is the same as the backstop. #Brexit
— Guy Verhofstadt (@guyverhofstadt) June 7, 2018
The EU’s Chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier said that he would ‘examine’ the idea.
I welcome publication of #UK proposal on customs aspects of IE/NI backstop.
We will examine it with 3 questions: is it a workable solution to avoid a hard border? Does it respect the integrity of the SM/CU? Is it an all-weather backstop?
— Michel Barnier (@MichelBarnier) June 7, 2018
And the PM has been accused by political commentators of yet another fudge over the wooly wording of the proposal.
If this is victory for DD, I’d hate to see defeat. “Should” (not must). “Until” (who decides). “Expects” not will
DD looks like he’s accepted a carefully worded fudge to me pic.twitter.com/72G1eaQGYV
— Sam Coates Times (@SamCoatesTimes) June 7, 2018
Brexiters sharing that clause, with the Dec 2021 date underlined; Remainers pointing out, "it's an expectation". Classic fudge – highly likely to melt on contact with Brussels.
— Heather Stewart (@GuardianHeather) June 7, 2018
The note reads: “The UK is clear that the temporary customs arrangement, should it be needed, should be time limited, and that it will be only in place until the future customs arrangement can be introduced.
“The UK is clear that the future customs arrangement needs to deliver on the commitments made in relation to Northern Ireland.
“The UK expects the future arrangement to be in place by the end of December 2021 at the latest. There are a range of options for how a time limit could be delivered, which the UK will propose and discuss with the EU.”
Cabinet tensions on the backstop initiative emerged yesterday after Mr Davis was believed to be insisting that the UK should be able to unilaterally withdraw from any border agreement in order to maintain leverage with Brussels in ongoing negotiations.
Theresa May also infuriated the pro-Brexit faction of her party by showing the blueprint for avoiding a hard border to Remainer ministers before letting the Eurosceptic minister see it, The Times reports.
As well as the border dispute, the Prime Minister is also working to appease Remain-leaning members of her party in order to quell a backbench revolt over the EU Withdrawal Bill.
A number of Tory MPs are threatening to inflict humiliating defeats on the Government when the bill returns to the Commons next week by siding with the House of Lords on issues such as the customs union and membership of the EEA.