The EU is willing to insert a text in to the Withdrawal Agreement a text guaranteeing it will create a UK-wide customs backstop plan in the future.
Senior Irish sources have confirmed to Euronews that requests from the UK to make the backstop UK-wide are being considered by Brussels but such a plan won’t be complete in time for the Withdrawal Agreement to be signed off.
If the plan goes ahead it could replace the controversial backstop which relates to Northern Ireland only, and is being heavily rejected by the DUP – the Unionist party which holds the balance of power in government in Britain.
‘The EU is willing to insert a legally-binding commitment allowing for a UK-wide customs arrangement which could replace the Northern Ireland-only plan’, a source told Euronews.
“That’s the aim but the devil is in the detail. It’s not as simple as saying that it will automatically replace the original backstop, but we hope for that”, the source said.
“This will be seen as a better backstop by those in the UK who feel Northern Ireland is being cut off by the current plan” they added.
The backstop is the legal guarantee in the EU – UK withdrawal agreement designed to ensure there will be no hard border in on the island of Ireland.
It is imperative in order to protect the Good Friday Agreement the peace deal signed twenty years ago to end three decades of conflict in Northern Ireland.
Last March the EU proposed a backstop plan that would keep Northern Ireland in the EU customs union should the UK leave the EU with a weak trade deal that would require regulatory or customs checks between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
It has been roundly rejected by the UK, and talks on Brexit have stalled since.
This new UK-wide customs backstop could be negotiated in the transitional period – “parallel to the talks on the future relationship”, said the Irish source.
The source also revealed that UK Prime Minister Theresa May has conceded that the backstop cannot be time-limited, and can only be deemed temporary if and when another solution is found.
“They want it to be temporary, to be replaced by something better. But accept that cannot mean a specific time limit”, said the source.
Alongside the possible extension to the transition deal, this might be enough to satisfy unionists that the Withdrawal Agreement won’t result in splitting the United Kingdom.
However, it may not be enough to satisfy Brexiteers who want to leave the EU as soon as possible.
Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar refused to confirm or deny the UK-wide customs-based backstop was in the offing for fear of scuppering any plan.
"We'll listen to any suggestions or any proposals the UK brings forward
"There's lots of ideas floating around, it wouldn't be in the interests of getting to a deal for me to speculate", said Mr Varadkar.