UK cabinet could agree to backstop review deal

EU believes movement on Border issue this week would allow for November summit

Theresa May's cabinet could meet later this week to sign off on a proposal for a review mechanism to determine how Britain could exit a backstop after Brexit. Mrs May told ministers on Tuesday that she wanted a withdrawal deal with the EU as soon as possible but not at any price.

EU negotiators believe there must be movement on the backstop by the end of this week if there is to be a special summit to approve the withdrawal deal before the end of this month.

During a cabinet meeting that lasted almost three hours, every minister contributed to a discussion of the Brexit negotiations which focused on the backstop. Attorney general Geoffrey Cox described the EU's willingness to consider a review mechanism for the backstop as a "major step" towards a deal.

Mr Cox is understood to have told ministers that a mechanism based on mutual consent could offer Britain the same certainty as a unilateral mechanism favoured by Brexit secretary Dominic Raab.


Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, who spoke to Mrs May about a review mechanism on Monday, has ruled out a unilateral option.

The prime minister’s official spokesman cautioned against speculation that a breakthrough was imminent, adding that Mrs May had stressed that nothing would be agreed until everything, including the future framework, was agreed.

“She said that while 95 per cent of the withdrawal agreement had been concluded, on the Northern Ireland backstop there are a number of issues that we still need to work through, and these are the most difficult. This includes ensuring that, if the backstop is ever needed, it is not permanent, and there’s a mechanism to ensure that the UK could not be held in the arrangement indefinitely.

“The prime minister said she was confident of reaching a deal. She said that, while the UK should aim to secure a withdrawal agreement as soon as possible, this would not be done at any cost.

‘Full future framework’

“The prime minister said that, once agreement was reached on a withdrawal agreement, it remains the case that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed, and it will be subject to securing an acceptable full future framework.”

Former Conservative attorney general Dominic Grieve, who supports a second referendum on Brexit, said the backstop deal was likely to leave the entire UK subject to EU rules indefinitely.

“We are leaving the EU, but we are going to place ourselves in a relationship with the EU where we lose all influence over decision-making, and are likely to be subservient to the EU in critical areas about the nature of our future trading relationship with them, or for that matter the nature of the relationship that Northern Ireland has with them,” he told the BBC.

“It really reinforces for me why we should have a people’s vote. What is going to end up being offered to the British public – and the government is going to seek to carry through parliament – is something markedly different from what was being discussed in 2016.”