1st Allotted Day

Part of European Union (Withdrawal) Act – in the House of Commons at 5:46 pm on 4th December 2018.

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Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party 5:46 pm, 4th December 2018

I understand that some colleagues are worried, as I have just said, that we could end up stuck in the backstop indefinitely. In the negotiations, we secured seven separate commitments in the withdrawal agreement and political declaration to ensure that that is not the case. First, there is an explicit legal duty to use best endeavours to reach an agreement by the end of December 2020 that avoids the backstop coming into force in the first place.

That is not just a political commitment. As the Attorney General has set out, this is a recognised approach in international law, and we have the right to seek independent arbitration if this duty is not upheld. Secondly, if despite this, the future relationship is not ready in time, the backstop can be replaced by alternative arrangements. The political declaration makes it clear that we will seek to draw upon all available facilitations and technologies that could be used to avoid a hard border, and preparatory work will be done before we leave so that we can make rapid progress after our withdrawal. Thirdly, if neither the future relationship nor the alternative arrangements were ready by the end of 2020, we would not have to go into the backstop at this point. Instead, we have negotiated that there would be a clear choice between the backstop or a short extension to the implementation period.

Fourthly, if we do go into the backstop, the legal text is explicit that it should be temporary and that the article 50 legal base cannot provide for a permanent relationship. Fifthly, if the backstop is no longer necessary to avoid a hard border, we have the right to trigger a review through the Joint Committee. Sixthly, as a result of the changes that we have negotiated, there is an explicit termination clause that allows the backstop to be turned off. Finally, the legal text is now clear that once the backstop has been superseded, it will cease to apply, so if a future Parliament decided to move from an initially deep trade relationship to a looser one, the backstop could not return.