The controversial backstop will be on the agenda when Theresa May heads to Brussels after MPs backed an amendment to replace the plan with “alternative arrangements”. This would mean a reopening of the Withdrawal Agreement thrashed out between the UK and EU as the parties bid to find a way of avoiding a hard border in Ireland. However, European Council president Donald Tusk has said the agreement is not open for renegotiation.

The term “backstop” only features once among the 599 pages of the draft Withdrawal Agreement struck between the UK and EU in November, referring to it being replaced by “a subsequent agreement that establishes alternative arrangements for ensuring the absence of a hard border on the island of Ireland on a permanent footing”.

Put simply, it is an insurance policy to ensure border posts and checks on vehicles do not return to the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic when Britain leaves the EU.

It would see the UK enter into a temporary customs union with the EU if no trade deal is sealed by the end of a transition period after Brexit, which lasts until December 2020 and could be extended to the end of 2022.

Drafted by Graham Brady, the amendment called for “the Northern Ireland backstop to be replaced with alternative arrangements to avoid a hard border”. It passed by 317 votes to 301, a majority of 16.


  1. The simplest, but probably most controversial, way of avoiding the issue of a backstop on the Irish border is a revocation of Article 50 and the UK.
  2. The second is if the UK sought to remain in the Customs Union post-Brexit, a move which would allow goods to travel freely between the UK, Ireland and the rest of the European Union.

Although the shape of any “alternative arrangements” remains to be specified a number of methods have previously been suggested.

  1. Adding a “sunset clause” into the backstop which would add an expiry date to the provision, which could allay fears of Britain permanently being locked into the customs union.
  2. Using technology to overcome the issue of the Irish border. This technology would allow customs checks to take place away from the border - including potentially having declarations made online.

An effective but non-invasive border for Northern Ireland would call for

  1. Common patrols between the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland, staffed with the same people and with the common goal of finding irregularities.
  2. An intelligence strategy for what you are looking for.
  3. Control points not at the border but somewhere in the country.”


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