The Irish backstop was a protocol in the (un ratified) Brexit withdrawal agreement that would have kept the UK (generally) in the customs union of the European Union and Northern Ireland (in particular) on certain aspects of the European internal market until a solution was found to avoid a hard border. This should not compromise the Good Friday agreement and preserve the integrity of the European internal market. This would only have come into effect if there were no other solutions before the end of the (agreed) transition period. Talks resumed in the following days, so a joint report was published on 8 December to report on the commitments that must be taken into account in the withdrawal agreement. Both the UK and EU negotiating teams have expressed their preference to avoid a « hard border » and have proposed a draft withdrawal agreement containing a backstop: Sinn Féin, SDLP, alliance Party of Northern Ireland and the Green Party in Northern Ireland all support the backstop.  In a memo from Industry Minister Richard Harrington, which was picked up by Sky News, « this [technical] idea was discussed and rejected by the UK and the EU in the summer of 2018, with both sides concluding that it would not remain an open border. That`s why we`ve finished the current backstop. There are no borders in the world right now, apart from a customs union that has eliminated border infrastructure. « We have agreed on an orderly withdrawal and on the framework for future relations, » Michel Barnier, the EU`s chief negotiator, told reporters in Brussels. EU heads of state and government will debate the deal on Thursday and likely approve it politically, but they will need more time to formally approve it, which can only be done after the agreement is approved by the European Parliament. The Irish government, in particular, insisted on this « backstop ».   This piece has been updated to cover the latest political developments around the backstop. On 17 October 2019, EU leaders and Boris Johnson agreed on a revised withdrawal agreement that replaced the backstop with a new protocol.   In essence, this project would de facto keep Northern Ireland in the EU customs union and in the internal goods market (including the introduction of EU VAT), while allowing Britain to deviate.
In December 2019, Labour announced that it had received an HM Treasury Paper with the Freedom of Information Act 2000, which appears to show that the Prime Minister`s draft agreement would require certain types of two-way customs checks between Britain and Northern Ireland.  Both the EU and the UK have stated that they do not want the backstop to be used, but this has not been sufficiently safe for some MEPs who felt that the backstop could mean that the UK will remain closely linked to the EU for an indefinite period. Brexit: Michel Barnier questions Theresa May`s `backstop plan` The crucial `backstop`, an insurance policy that would have kept the whole of the UK in EU customs and was rejected by Brexit fry, is out. A new complex mechanism has been agreed, which is permanent – but is also subject to approval by Northern Ireland`s political leaders. What is the big picture behind the Brexit backstop drama? In Protestant and Catholic communities, where the 1998 Good Friday Agreement ended the armed conflict, the possibility of a hard border on the island of Ireland evokes anxious memories.