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Why implementing the backstop is not in the EU’s interests

2 min read

It would not benefit the EU to tie the UK into a permanent customs union via the backstop, writes Vicky Ford


One of the issues raised on the Withdrawal Agreement is the concern that the EU might try to tie the UK into a permanent customs union via the backstop. This misses a fundamental point. It is clearly not in the interests of the EU to do this, as to do so risks jeopardising EU trade negotiations with other parts of the world.

Under Article 50 the Withdrawal Agreement cannot be the long-term agreement. If the backstop is used it will always be legally unstable. 

The EU is currently negotiating a plethora of trade deals with other parts of the world. In order to secure those deals, the EU needs to be clear about the size of the market that they are offering access too. For so long as the backstop hangs around in the background, the EU cannot give clarity as to whether they are offering market access for the EU27 or for the EU27 plus the UK.

When the backstop only covered Northern Ireland, this was not a big issue, since the size of the Northern Ireland market is not significant in the context of the EU’s own single market size. But the UK market is a significant market, and now the backstop covers EU27 plus the UK. This lack of clarity over market size creates uncertainty for the EU trade negotiators.

This is one of the reasons why the EU does not want to have to implement the backstop and have moved to more flexible language on the potential options for the long-term UK/EU relationship on customs.  

Vicky Ford is Conservative MP for Chelmsford

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