The British prime minister has told Ireland and the EU that alternative guarantees to avoid Border checks could be inserted into the withdrawal agreement but the backstop must be removed
However, Dublin was cool on the proposals last night. While the Government issued no formal response, two senior sources played down the significance of the British initiatives and said that the position had not changed, that the Brexit withdrawal agreement could not be renegotiated.
Boris Johnson spoke to Taoiseach Leo Varadkar on the telephone for almost an hour last night and later released a letter he had sent Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, the group of EU leaders.
Senior sources in Dublin also pointed to the lack of any detail in Mr Johnson’s letter about how a hard border could be avoided, or what the nature of any alternative guarantees could be.
Mr Johnson reiterated British opposition to the backstop, the legal guarantee that the North will continue to follow EU rules and standards if no new trade deal is agreed in order to avoid a hard border.
“The backstop cannot form part of an agreed Withdrawal Agreement,” Mr Johnson wrote. “That is a fact we must both acknowledge.”
He proposes the EU and the UK agree to replace the backstop with new arrangements to guarantee there will be no hard border, and offers to insert commitments to that effect into a new withdrawal agreement.
I have written to @eucopresident about key aspects of the UK’s approach to Brexit, problems with the “backstop” & the Government’s commitment to the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement whether there is a deal with the EU or not.https://t.co/7JYdIsZdjB pic.twitter.com/Sc6WjDPdkw
— Boris Johnson (@BorisJohnson) August 19, 2019
Senior Irish sources last night flatly rejected Mr Johnson’s assertion that the backstop was a threat to the Belfast Agreement.
In addition, Government sources said the letter “does not set out what the so-called ‘alternative arrangements’ could or would be”.
“Unless and until there are viable alternatives, the need for the backstop insurance policy is clear,” a senior source said.
Officials briefed on the call between Mr Johnson and the Taoiseach said the tone was “businesslike but friendly”.
However, it is clear that a wide gulf remains between the two sides, just over two months before the UK’s exit date from the EU. The two men agreed that Mr Johnson would visit Dublin for talks in early September.
Mr Johnson also yesterday reiterated his intention to bring the UK out of the EU with or without a deal at the end of October.
The call with Mr Varadkar and the letter to Mr Tusk comes at the beginning of an important week for Mr Johnson, who is due to have his first meeting about Brexit with both the German chancellor Angela Merkel and the French president Emmanuel Macron later this week.
Also yesterday, United States democratic leader Chuck Schumer said he would oppose any post-Brexit trade deal between the US and Britain if it undermined the Belfast agreement.
Meanwhile, pressure is building on the Government to advance plans for alternative shipping routes bypassing Britain to avoid severe delays at English Channel ports stemming from a possible no-deal Brexit.
Potential risks to the key “landbridge” transit route for Irish traders through the UK to Europe have escalated in light of the UK government’s no-deal plans which show severe disruptions at British ports.
Operation Yellowhammer, the leaked UK planning dossier, warns of significant interruptions at UK ports that could last up to three months after Brexit.
Industry groups have warned that delays at English ports could affect the transport of fresh food and time-sensitive produce and have criticised the Government for not developing detailed alternative plans.