What is the Irish Backstop?

A thread from political sociologist Katy Hayward on the backstop, what it is and what it means …

PM Johnson has made the removal of the #backstop the make-or-break matter when it comes to an exit deal with the EU.

So this thing is pretty damn important.

Time for a quick recap of what the ‘loathed and detested’ backstop actually is?


The #backstop is there specifically to meet the UK’s commitments to avoid a hard Irish border & protect the 1998 Good Friday (Belfast) Agreement & peace process.

This isn’t just of benefit or interest to the island of Ireland.
A broken Northern Ireland means a limping UK.

How does the #backstop work?
A v.brief explanation:Having to apply & enforce customs procedures & rules around market access makes a border ‘hard’.
(just talking trade here)

Put simply, the greater the hassle in getting goods across a border, the harder that border is.


The #backstop makes it possible to avoid a hard @BorderIrish by creating a situation in which moving goods across the Irish border is unencumbered by customs procedures or by need to prove adherence to market rules.

There are 2 dimensions to this: NI-specific & UK-wide.


mentions First, NI would remain in the VAT & excise regime of the EU so as to make VAT payments relating to cross-border trade as smooth as possible + to minimise risk (& lucrative potential) of smuggling.
It does not mean NI pays different tax rates nor that Brussels sets its rates.
mentions 2nd: NI wd be effectively in part of the Single Market for goods, specifically those the EU is worried about for health & safety reasons (e.g. meat quality, exhaust emissions, toy standards).
ie: NI will continue to maintain the same standards it does now on these products.
mentions If EU standards change on this specific set of products, it will be expected NI will at min. voluntarily align.
UK govt promised NI it too will align but not yet in law.
We don’t know what’ll happen if neither of these things occur.
NB: this is re: consumer confidence/safety
mentions Finally, UK wd be in the customs territory of the EU.
This was at the request of the UK govt.
It means there wouldn’t need to be customs procedures on goods going from NI into either GB or EU.
It will also relieve a great deal of hassle for UK trade into EU more broadly.
mentions But there are downsides to this when it comes to UK’s ability to make its own trade deals around goods.
Hence the WA provision #backstop could be stepped down one part at a time.
Bear in mind: UK’s future relationship with EU still to be decided. UK could go for this anyway.
mentions 🚨NEWSFLASH! 🚨
The EU isn’t more fond of the #backstop than the UK is.It is a compromise to manage a uniquely complicated situation. It is awkward & inconvenient for both sides.

Hence, right from exit day, there will be a negotiating track focused on avoiding its use.


mentions 🚨ALSO NOTE
*#Backstop is not the future EU-UK relationship!*
It’ll only come into force at end of transition period, currently set to be 1 Jan 2023 at latest but it cd be extended.
Even then it might be that just part of it will be in play.
It’ll be under constant review.

mentions To conclude: 3 quick fact checks. 🔎

The #backstop does *not* see the UK continue on in the EU’s single market.

Even if, post-2023, it is in play, there will be an end to freedom of movement of goods, people, capital & services between the UK & EU. #Brexit


mentions The #backstop does not see the UK (or NI) blindly following EU rules with no say.

The #WithdrawalAgreement contains bodies & mechanisms for the UK & EU to come to agreement about the implementation of the backstop (among other things).

We lose these if there is #NoDeal.


mentions The backstop would mean increased checks on specified goods coming from GB into NI. This is largely a stepping-up of checks that already happen.

**Worth noting that this is exactly what UK govt foresees happening in the event of a #NoDeal**

So there you have it. #backstop


Comments (5)

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  1. lordmac says:

    Back stop is a fear of the loyalists should it come about it will bring a vote for independence, and should that happen the DUP members will evacuate the north in there droves , like a guard dog with no teeth can’t defend its own back yard

  2. Charles L. Gallagher says:

    OK, so I voted to remain in the full knowledge that the EU is not perfect. But, as we descend deeper into this quagmire I fail to see who stands to benefit, it certainly isn’t the rank-and-file worker who even now must be wondering if they’ll still have a job by Christmas e.g. car workers? It certainly will not be the rich Tories who by now have squirreled away their ill-gotten fortunes in safe off-shore tax havens. People, like our new Chancellor, who made their fortunes in ‘Casino Banking’ where our Chancellor has a less than a laudable track record in his recent working past, given some of the dodgy deals that he was involved in.

    However, my greatest fear is for the Irish border where if there is a ‘No Deal’ Brexit I cannot see how a hard border with customs checks, etc is unavoidable to protect the integrity of the Single Market with all its various consumer protections from food safety to fire-retardant clothing and furniture and many, many more. Are we going to sacrifice all these benefits just so that a handful of extreme right-wingers can continue to exploit people already poor and make them even poorer, or are they set upon re-starting the ‘Troubles’ in N. Ireland and set them back decades again or are they just plain stupid and want a Civil War throughout the UK where the eventual outcome will not be pretty and the French or Russian Revolutions will look like a Sunday School picnic ?

    1. W T Low says:

      I think that the answer is much more simple. Boris and the ‘boys and girls’ are just intellectually challenged. Lacking empathy, lacking knowledge but consumed with the narcissistic vision that they ‘know’. What do they know? Other than casino banking, corruption, lying and cheating – not a lot. There is no moral compass. In my life, across a number of organisations in both the public and private sector, over 50+ years, I never met a competent autocrat/authoritarian. The current cabinet is the biggest bunch of authoritarians ever assembled in government. ‘Sic a parcel o rogues in the nation.’ In summation, they do not know and they do not care.


  3. Willie says:

    Let’s be clear about this. The U.K. exit from the EU creates a border. No if, no buts.

    At a stroke two separate jurisdictions with no rights of movement for goods or people. So just think about that, folks no longer able to live in the North and work in the South. The requirement for people to have to apply for a work permit, or a resident permit, which permit may be denied.

    And then there is the transport of goods for export or import across the border. How Boris going to deal with that.

    Well has Government are already passing legislation to permit stop and snatch squads of Border Agency officers to be able to stop and detain people up to ten miles of within the border or at main railway stations and ports. That one can imagine will be a bundle of laughs in counties like south Armagh.

    Or the stopping of goods by customs officials, through road side checks, ANPR surveillance, facial recognition software, or just ad hoc stopping and checking. Another bundle of laughs.

    Or the Irish citizens in the North no longer in the EU. Is Boris going to send them home. Now that would be a laugh too.

    No wonder the UK now has more special forces working undercover in NI, and indeed in the Republic, than during the Troubles. And explains also why hundreds and hundreds of Scottish police have been trained for deployment in Northern Ireland. Certainly looks like May and now Johnson are getting tooled up for another Irish war.

    And war they will get as they disregard the NI electorate with the jackboot of the British Brexiteer.

    With 72% of folks having voted for the Good Friday Agreement and with over 56% having voted to remain in the EU the British occupying force is going to be resisted.

    Yes, a place that is now peaceful and prospering is now potential being primed to burn. But as Boris Johnson’s father quite recently opined.. . . . who cares if the Irish shoot each other. Certainly don’t think he was talking about the current crop of DUP MPs propping up Johnson’s minority government.

    We shall see ad NI potentially revisits it’s past.

    1. Millsy says:

      As ever , the English Establishment ( and I mean English ! ) has never and will never give a f*ck about Ireland/Irish !
      They ( the Irish ) are a gnat’s bawhair ahead of their contempt for Scotland /Scots !
      As for the Welsh – they don’t even register .

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