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Explainer: What Is The Brexit Backstop?

Still unsure? We don't blame you.

This week – along with the previous 12 months – has seen a lot of focus drawn towards the 'backstop'. 

It has been an intrinsic part of Brexit debates since the vote was first counted. 

But, what does that mean?

The border is a matter of great political, security and diplomatic sensitivity in Ireland. During the Troubles, the border was a microcosm of the violent activity of the Troubles. 

Therefore the UK and EU agreed that whatever happens as a result of Brexit there should be no new physical checks or infrastructure at the frontier.

The “Irish backstop” is effectively an insurance policy in UK-EU Brexit negotiations. It’s meant to ensure that the Irish border remains as open as it is today whatever the outcome of Brexit.

The backstop is a last resort, which would involve the UK retaining a very close relationship with the EU for an indefinite period – something not everyone is keen to do. 

It will apply if the UK and EU have not agreed on a final deal prior to the designated Brexit date (currently 31 October 2019) or if that final deal does not guarantee a soft border (a border with no physical checks as we have now).

It will not apply if the UK leaves without a deal in October.

The EU has insisted that any Brexit deal must contain the backstop.

Why is it relevant?

Because at present, goods and services can be traded between Northern Ireland and the Republic with ease e.g. someone living in the Republic can purchase from an online shop in Belfast and someone in Belfast can hire a painter from the Republic no problem. 

But, after Brexit, all of that could change because then the Republic and NI will be in different trading areas and have to abide by different systems and rules – this could mean that products and services travelling between the two places could be checked at the border. 

Everybody's preference is that an organised system will be put in place well ahead of Brexit happening. 

However, the UK government has been criticised for not prioritising NI's needs before, which is why many think the 'backstop' has been pushed back so many times. 

If nothing is organised for the border by the time Brexit comes along, the backstop will be aligned. 

This would see Northern Ireland staying aligned to some rules of the EU single market to ensure easy trading with the Republic. 

However, it would also mean that goods coming into Northern Ireland from elsewhere in the UK would need to be checked to see if they meet EU standards.

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