The EU, understandably, wants to preserve the integrity of its customs and regulatory territory. The UK and Ireland wish to preserve, post Brexit, the integrity of the Good Friday agreement which implies an open border between the Union and a non-Member State. Herein is born the famous “Backstop” conundrum – the solution ‘de jour’ being the UK remaining in a Customs Union with the EU.
Like many Europeans I find the thought of the Union without the UK distressing and a no-deal exit even more so. But one should not therefore obfuscate the terms of the ongoing debate.
A Customs Union, we all know, comes with a price – notably the inability of the UK to conclude independent trade agreements – a price not all Brexiteers are willing to accept, at least not as a permanent arrangement or at least not as something forced upon them deus ex machina. It is also unlikely that the Union would allow the UK to have more than a consultative voice in future EU trade agreements which, of course, would bind such a Customs Union. Another unpalatable dish.
But all this, we are told, will disappear when Final Status negotiations between the EU and the UK will conclude.
The notion that final status talks will bring an end to a Customs Union Backstop obscures one very uncomfortable catch 22 truth. The need for the Backstop will disappear if, and only if, the final status talks result in the UK remaining, one way or another, de jure or de facto, in an EU Customs Union applying the Common External Tariff!