May Says Brexit Customs Backstop Plan Would be Time-Limited

(Bloomberg) -- Prime Minister Theresa May said her new proposal for a Brexit compromise, which would keep the U.K. tied to some European customs rules to prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland, would be limited in time.

May got her ministers to agree last week to a new proposal that would keep the U.K. bound to some European Union trade rules after the split as a last-resort option. The plan, which is yet to convince EU counterparts, aims to break the deadlock in talks over the Irish border and is controversial as Brexit supporters are keen to leave the EU and all its rules as soon as possible.

Both sides have promised to avoid a hard border on the island -- which will become the frontier between the U.K. and EU. The EU is demanding an insurance clause, or backstop, in case the future trade deal the two sides agree on isn’t good enough to keep the border open. The U.K. rejects the backstop proposed by the other side.

"What we’re proposing is an alternative backstop proposal, but nobody wants this to be the solution that is achieved," May told reporters. “If it is necessary, it will be in a very limited set of circumstances for a limited time."

The Cabinet continues to discuss what the U.K.’s overall customs setup should look like after Brexit, with two options on the table. There’s a growing sense among officials and experts that neither would be ready in time for December 2020, when the transition period ends and Britain is due to leave all the rules and structures of the bloc.

Asked if she was open to extending transitional arrangements beyond that is meant to leave all that, May repeated her line that the transition “is set to end in December 2020."

She added: "We’re doing further work on the customs options that we have identified and those are both looking at how we can ensure that we meet those three objectives that I set out for the future customs arrangements with the European Union, and obviously alongside that, work is being undertaken within government on what is necessary to put in place to meet those customs arrangements for the future.”

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