Attorney General backs compromise on “mutual review mechanism” for backstop

The UK Attorney General, Geoffrey Cox, has reportedly given his backing to a “mutual review mechanism” for the ending of any temporary customs backstop between the UK and the EU. 

This comes after reports that the EU has recently shifted towards considering such a mechanism, which would involve an independent arbitration body. 

According to reports Cox told the UK Cabinet that the EU’s shift was a “major step” towards a deal on the Withdrawal Agreement. 

Cox reportedly added that while such a mechanism would offer firmer legal guarantees if the UK could trigger it unilaterally, one that required mutual consent would not amount to a “veto” for the EU and would be easier to negotiate. 

However, there are also reports that the Foreign Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, warned that without a unilateral exit mechanism to leave the backstop, the Withdrawal Agreement would struggle to pass the House of Commons. 

According to sources, the UK Cabinet agreed that reaching a deal this month would be significantly preferable to reaching one in December, though the latter would not be impossible. A Downing Street source told this site: “Everyone agrees this has to be wrapped up by Christmas.”

Meanwhile, a spokesman for Theresa May said the Prime Minister wanted a deal with the EU, but “not at any cost,” adding, “Don’t be under any illusion, there remains a significant amount of work to do.” 

Officials from both the Attorney General’s Office and the Department for Exiting the European Union (DexEU) will now start work on a detailed proposal for a backstop review mechanism. A second Cabinet meeting is expected later this week.

Elsewhere, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier has told Belgian broadcaster RTBF, “I am not, as I am speaking to you this morning, able to tell you that we are close to reaching an agreement [on the Irish border].” 

Speaking later at a press conference in Slovakia, he added, “Today we’re not there yet. The clock is still ticking and we will continue the work. Choices have to be made on the British side to finalise this deal.”

Separately, 14 British MEPs have written to their colleagues in the European Parliament urging them to lobby their governments for an extension of the Article 50 process. 

Most of the 14 are Labour MEPs, but the list also includes MEPs from the Greens, Liberal Democrats, SNP and Plaid Cymru, as well as one Conservative.

The BBC, meanwhile, says it has seen leaked Whitehall notes detailing a possible timetable for how the Government might try to present a Brexit deal. The timetable included the timing of a speech from the Prime Minister at a CBI conference later this month, as well as asking foreign leaders, business figures and policy experts for their support in selling the deal to MPs and the public.

A Government spokesman said, “The misspelling and childish language in this document should be enough to make clear it doesn’t represent the Government’s thinking. You would expect the Government to have plans for all situations — to be clear, this isn’t one of them.”

Separately, Theresa May has announced the formation of five new “business councils” to advise the government on how to create the best conditions for business after Brexit. 

With representatives from a variety of different sectors, Mrs. May said that the councils would “advise us on the opportunities and challenges facing business as we shape the UK for the future”.

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Martin Banks

Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a highly qualified journalist with many years experience of working within the EU institutions. He is an occasional, and highly valued, contributor to EU today, writing on a wide variety of issues.

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