The U.K. presented a long-awaited plan to EU negotiators Wednesday on how to replace the controversial Northern Ireland backstop, but diplomats briefed on the Brexit talks say the proposals fall short of the reassurance that Dublin and Brussels need.
Under the proposal, presented in Brussels by Boris Johnson’s most senior EU adviser, David Frost, the backstop would be removed and replaced with “Ireland-specific” arrangements for checking goods away from the border, according to diplomats briefed on the talks.
In effect, London is offering a commitment to develop alternative custom procedures during the post-Brexit transition period, two EU officials said, although it is unclear if this will satisfy Brussels and Dublin. Leading figures on the EU side have repeated endlessly that they regard the Northern Ireland conundrum as something that must be settled before the U.K. leaves the bloc.
Even though it has been received with some skepticism, the offer marks a significant moment in the U.K. government’s evolving Brexit strategy. With other options such as an October snap general election and leaving with no-deal now seemingly closed off to Johnson, his EU negotiating team has come to Brussels with a more substantive position than before — albeit with what EU diplomats described as a vague verbal-only offer with little detail.
Alternative fixes to the Irish border — such as electronic pre-clearance, pre-border checks and trusted trader schemes — have been publicly discussed during past weeks, but Wednesday was the first time that Frost held a dedicated meeting with EU officials to discuss such customs plans, officials said.