Politics

Brexit: Bid to stop NI civil servants acting on backstop


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AFP

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Steve Baker urged the prime minister to change her Brexit plan earlier this month

A former Brexit minister has tabled an amendment to the Northern Ireland bill to prevent senior civil servants acting on any backstop arrangements for the border in the absence of an assembly.

The bill aims to give NI civil servants more flexibility in making decisions.

But NI has been without a devolved government since January 2017.

The backstop is an arrangement which will apply if the border cannot be kept as frictionless as it is now in the context of a wider Brexit deal.

The amendment was tabled by Conservative MP, Steve Baker.

The EU and UK agree the need for a backstop but not how it should operate.

The government has so far proposed a backstop which would effectively keep the whole of the UK in the EU customs union for a limited period.

The EU has proposed a backstop that would mean Northern Ireland staying in the EU customs union, large parts of the single market and the EU VAT system.

Its chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, has continually emphasised that this backstop can only apply to Northern Ireland.

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The government has rejected that as a threat to the integrity of the UK.

Mr Baker said the amendments would ensure that “emergency powers” cannot be used to implement measures in the absence of an assembly.

“Northern Ireland is an integral part of the UK,” Mr Baker said.

“Creating barriers between Northern Ireland and Great Britain, creating a separate regulatory regime or imposing EU laws on Northern Ireland via emergency legislation does not respect Northern Ireland’s status in the UK.”

A government spokesperson said the Northern Ireland bill “is required to provide the Northern Ireland civil service with the certainty and clarity they need to continue to deliver public services in Northern Ireland”.

“It enables key appointments that cannot currently be made in the absence of Northern Ireland ministers to be made during the period before an executive is next formed,” the spokesperson added.

“The bill also creates the necessary time and space to restart political talks with the aim of restoring devolved government as soon as possible.

‘Certainty and clarity’

“Any amendments will be considered by the commons in the normal way.”

The UK is due to leave the EU on 29 March 2019, and the transition period, which Mrs May prefers to call the implementation period, is designed to smooth the path to a future permanent relationship.

During this transition period, which is due to finish on 31 December 2020, the UK’s relationship with the EU will stay largely the same.

The UK has signed up to the principle of agreeing an Irish border backstop in case there is a gap between the transition period and the future permanent relationship coming into force.

But a decision has not yet been made on what form the backstop will take, and how long it could last.



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