Andrea Leadsom is the Leader of the House of Commons, that is, she is responsible for arranging government business. She has also proposed a solution to the problem of the “backstop” which is based on the same principle as our own earlier suggestion, namely, to limit the application of the “backstop” to one year renewable by mutual consent.
If there is anyone fresh to the Brexit drama, let us recall that the deal to leave the European Union negotiated by UK PM Theresa May consists of two documents, the Withdrawal Agreement (WA, 585 pages) and the Framework for the Future Relationship (FFR, 26 pages). The WA both winds up the current UK-EU relationship and defines the nature of the “transition period” from March 29 next, the day that the UK officially leaves the EU, to the end of 2020. During that transition period, the FFR is due to be turned into a full-fledged treaty defining the future trading and other relations of the two parties.
The WA has a main section (185 articles) and three Protocols on Ireland/Northern Ireland, Cyprus and Gibraltar (21, 13 and 6 articles), plus various Annexes of technical details. The first Protocol – the so-called “backstop” – is designed to cover a conceivable emergency: if the two sides are still negotiating when the transition period ends, then they will establish a temporary customs union to avoid the creation of a “hard border” between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic. This arrangement will continue until the negotiations come to an end and the future relationship begins. From the moment that the WA was made public on November 14, however, it was clear from the text of the “backstop” that the UK could be trapped in this “temporary” arrangement for years on end.