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The ‘backstop’ obstacle

Aug 25,2019 - Last updated at Aug 25,2019

The Brexit crisis between the UK and the EU could be on the verge of a breakthrough, thanks to high statesmanship by Germany's Chancellor Angela  Merkel shown in her talks in Berlin with visiting British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Wednesday, followed by talks between French President Emmanuel Macron and Johnson in Paris on Thursday, which seemed to resurrect the stalemate over Brexit negotiations from utter failure.

Merkel's chosen words during the joint press conference with the British prime minister at the end of their talks offered a glimpse of what could be coming. She refused to slam shut the door on the Brexit standoff when her carefully chosen words suggested that a workable solution to the "backstop" issue could still be found, one that would not require reopening negotiations on Brexit terms between the two sides.

Merkel must be given credit for opening the door for reconciliation between the EU and the UK, a work which was strengthened when the French president echoed "more or less" the sentiment of Merkel, by giving the UK an additional 30 days to find an alternative to the "backstop" problem that seemed to have prevented the two sides from minimising their differences and striking a deal.

This “backstop” obstacle is sacred to the UK, since Prime Minister Johnson has repeatedly affirmed that under no circumstances would his country accept any physical borders between Northern Ireland, which is part of the UK, and the Republic of Ireland.

The EU has viewed this “backstop” issue as contravening the very essence of Brexit and wants it solved one way or another, to agree on a Brexit deal with London.

The fact that Prime Minister Johnson made trips to Berlin and Paris for talks with the German and French leaders suggests that he is open-minded about finding a solution to the existing standoff, and that he seeks mutual accommodations with the EU.

What the solution could be to the "backstop" obstacle now that the two sides have a 30-day breathing space is still up to conjecture. With goodwill and common sense, the two sides can bridge the gap between their respective positions and salvage Brexit from disaster.

One way out is to avoid any trade control between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland and instead impose customs duties on trade traffic between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK that originates from the EU. That should work and satisfy all sides!

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