The Irish backstop is designed to avoid the return of a hard border between the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland by effectively keeping the United Kingdom in a customs union with the EU until such time as other arrangements are agreed – potentially indefinitely – and it was one of the reasons why British Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit deal was overwhelmingly rejected by parliament last week.
“I’ve just discussed that idea with my (Irish) counterpart Simon Coveney and also with (British foreign minister) Jeremy Hunt today, I think it would be one of the solutions,” Czaputowicz told reporters before entering a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels. “So that’s an idea to be discussed within the European Union. I don’t know if it’s feasible - if Ireland is ready to put forward such a proposal, but I have an impression that it might unblock the negotiations.”
Coveney said the idea would not work. “He mentioned that issue in Dublin in December when he visited,” Coveney told reporters in Brussels when asked about the Polish proposal. “I made it very clear that putting a time limit on an insurance mechanism, which is what the backstop is, effectively means that it’s not a backstop at all. I don’t think that reflects EU thinking in relation to the withdrawal agreement”, Coveney said, adding that he understands the Polish foreign minister's concerns over the potential damage of no deal.
On Monday, Theresa May sought to break the deadlock in parliament over Brexit by proposing to seek further concessions from the EU on the backstop, and said she looked forward to exploring Poland’s proposal. She said there are two "core concerns" with the backstop: "The fear that we could be trapped in it permanently; and concerns over its potential impact on our union if Northern Ireland is treated differently from the rest of the U.K."
Needless to say, Czaputowicz’s proposal did not find favour with EU officials. "By now we are quite used to this minister's comments," said one EU diplomat. "It is not the first time he breaks rank. It's surprising how Poland relies on the solidarity of others but never shows it when other member states need it." "What they fail to see is that there will be no solution for the Polish citizens in the U.K. without a sustainable, acceptable solution for the Irish border," the diplomat added. However, the DUP's Westminster leader, Nigel Dodds, called it a "constructive attempt to re-energize talks in good faith." "Poland is facing up to reality and being pragmatic," he said.
With the current deadlock increasing the risk of a no-deal Brexit, which would most likely lead to the imposition of the very border which the EU says it does not wish to see, it seems not unreasonable for the Polish foreign minister at least to have made the suggestion. There are a million or so Polish nationals living in the UK so it is understandable that Poland should be particularly concerned about the implications of a no-deal Brexit. Whatever the merits of the proposal, it seems that there are those who simply don’t accept the Polish foreign minister should have the temerity to express any opinion at all. "I think it is dangerous," said a senior official from an EU27 country. "We stand behind Ireland and it is up to them only to accept any change in the backstop." To paraphrase George Orwell: all the members were equal, but some were more equal than others.
Author: Nicholas Richardson