A new working group has been set up to examine potential alternative solutions to the issue of the Irish Backstop. The Tradefair team brings you the latest from UK politics...
"These are proposals that have not been discussed in the negotiations yet. The UK government has not properly looked at these proposals either."
- Conservative MP Marcus Fysh
A mixed group of Conservative MPs and officials in favour of Leave and Remain will meet for the first time today (February 4th) as part of the Alternative Arrangements Working Group to discuss potential solutions to the ongoing issue of the Irish Backstop.
With just weeks to go until the UK's departure from the EU, it is this major sticking point in negotiations which many now see as the key to an orderly Brexit.
What is the Irish Backstop?
The Irish Backstop is an arrangement whereby, following the end of a two-year transitional period after the UK leaves the EU, the UK will remain within the 'single customs territory' if no agreement on future customs and trade rules can be agreed upon.
Designed to ensure there will be no return to a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic, this effectively means that the customs union will be maintained indefinitely to ensure the free flow of goods (albeit with some additional checks) between the EU and the UK.
A significant issue surrounding the proposals, however, lies in the fact that future agreement between both the UK and the EU will be needed to remove the Backstop arrangement. Indeed, many MPs in favour of Leave argue this is tantamount to remaining and gives the UK no recourse to pursue other trade arrangements.
Can a solution help stop a no-deal Brexit?
With the UK scheduled to officially leave the EU at 23:00 GMT on March 29th, delivering a solution to the Irish Backstop is seen as one of the most promising ways to avoid the prospect of a no-deal Brexit.
Without a deal, no-one can be sure what the future relationship between the UK and the EU will look like and this is not good for business continuity and in delivering confidence at a time when it is needed most.
Led by Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay, the new working group will examine proposals that look into the use of "new technology" to manage the flow of goods over the Irish border, as well as other possible solutions.
Members of the group will include Conservative MPs Steve Baker, Marcus Fysh, Owen Paterson, Damian Green and Nicky Morgan, in addition to a number of senior government officials from HMRC, the Cabinet Office Europe Unit and Number 10.
Mr Fysh told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "These are proposals that have not been discussed in the negotiations yet. The UK government has not properly looked at these proposals either."
Is UK business confidence returning?
Recent days have witnessed a surge in the UK's premier stock market, the FTSE 100, despite the ongoing uncertainty surrounding Brexit. In the week from January 28th to today, the FTSE 100 has risen in value by almost 300 points from 6,747 to over 7,040.
A positive outlook may therefore be growing among some UK firms; but without certainty on Brexit and what that process will actually entail, it could be a boost in performance that is relatively short-lived.
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