May Outlines Brexit Plan to Avoid Hard Border With Ireland

(Bloomberg) -- U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May’s government outlined steps to develop technology to keep the Irish border open after Brexit even if Britain is unable to negotiate a trade deal with the European Union.

The government will set up three advisory groups to help develop arrangements that could be used from the beginning of 2021, when Britain is due to leave a post-Brexit transition period, the Brexit Department said in an emailed statement. It will also dedicate 20 million pounds ($26 million) to testing potential technologies.

The measures are aimed at pacifying pro-Brexit members of May’s Conservative Party who want the premier to broker an alternative to the so-called Irish backstop, the default arrangements that will set in at the end of 2020 if the two sides can’t agree on a trade deal. The Brexiteers hate the backstop, saying it could tie Britain indefinitely to EU rules.

May is trying to win support for her exit deal in a make-or-break March 12 vote in the House of Commons, which rejected it by a historic margin in January. Brexiteers want the backstop dropped, and May’s latest proposals -- and signals from the EU -- suggest it won’t be. Instead, she hopes to win their support with a pledge to develop the technological solution during a 21-month transition period that’s due to follow Brexit on March 29, thus ensuring the backstop is never needed.

The latest announcement is an overture to a group of Tory lawmakers from both sides of the Brexit divide who unified behind a technological approach in January. Their proposal is called the “Malthouse compromise,” after the lawmaker who brought the warring factions together.

The three groups proposed by the Brexit ministry would be a panel of experts in trade and customs, a group to engage with businesses and trade unions, and a third group to consult lawmakers from across Parliament.

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