How to exit the backstop


On 11 December, the House of Commons must vote on whether to approve the Withdrawal Agreement and the Political Declaration setting out the framework for the future relationship between the UK and the EU. At this point, it seems there is no majority for the Agreement and the Political Declaration. For many MPs, the main concern with the Agreement is the feasibility of the UK exiting from the backstop, i.e. the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland to the Withdrawal Agreement.

While Parliament is not able to enact a right to withdraw from the backstop – the right would have to arise under international law – Parliament might be able to secure some strengthening of the UK’s position on the termination of the backstop. This paper outlines the legal position as it stands, and explains how Parliament and Government jointly could mitigate the risk that the backstop becomes a permanent feature of the UK’s future relationship with the EU: the risk that the UK will be unable to escape it.

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