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Britain's Boris Johnson Appeals To EU To Drop 'Irish Backstop' Demand

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks with staff during a visit to the Royal Cornwall Hospital in Truro, south-west England, on Monday.
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks with staff during a visit to the Royal Cornwall Hospital in Truro, south-west England, on Monday.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has appealed to the European Union to scrap a deal forged by his predecessor that's aimed at preventing a hard border between Britain's Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, an EU member state, as a precondition for any Brexit deal.

In a letter to EU Council President Donald Tusk, Johnson asks for the removal of a "backstop" agreement negotiated by former Prime Minister Theresa May, who stepped down last month.

The backstop is part of a draft divorce deal with the EU that has already been rejected three times by Parliament, but Brussels has insisted that the provision be part of any new deal.

In it, Britain would enter a transition period once Brexit occurs, which is currently set for Oct. 31. After that time, which could last until the end of 2022, Britain would remain in the EU's single market and customs union if no deal for an open Irish border can be forged.

With the backstop, Northern Ireland would continue to operate under the EU's rules — meaning that goods arriving there from elsewhere in the U.K. would have to be checked to see if they meet European standards. Without the backstop, there would be a "hard border" between the two parts of Ireland, with Northern Ireland operating under the U.K.'s rules and the Republic of Ireland retaining separate EU customs and trading rules. That could seriously hamper a thriving trade between the two.

The backstop is anathema to hard-line Brexiteers and if it remains as a precondition for a deal, the likelihood of such a withdrawal agreement being approved by the deadline is slim, at best.

Johnson and his allies insist that the border issues can be sorted out without the backstop. In the letter, he calls for "flexible and creative solutions" and "alternative arrangements" that rely on technology to overcome the border obstacles.

Johnson called the backstop "anti-democratic and inconsistent with the sovereignty of the U.K. as a state" but also pledged to work in good faith toward a deal absent the backstop.

"You have my personal commitment that this government will work with energy and determination to achieve an agreement. That is our highest priority," Johnson wrote.

The letter came a day after details of a U.K. government study were published by The Sunday Times that paints a disturbing picture of the consequences of a no-deal Brexit.

The study warns of fuel, food and medicine shortages and a "three-month meltdown at [British] ports," the newspaper reports.

Code named Operation Yellowhammer, the report was reportedly compiled by the Cabinet Office this month.

However, Michael Gove, the Cabinet minister charged with planning for a no-deal Brexit, insists that the information in the report is old and that planning for a crash exit from the EU had been stepped up in the weeks since Johnson became prime minister.
Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.