End of Brexit backstop? Extra staff hired to solve Irish border question

Whitehall chiefs are looking for “problem solvers” to advise on Northern Ireland protocol and ensure the UK is well prepared for crucial discussions about the backstop arrangements. They also want to hire senior officials to help develop and deliver the UK’s policy on Alternative Arrangements to the backstop. The job ad said: “Alternative arrangements are likely to form a key plank of the UK’s future negotiations with the EU in all scenarios.”

The backstop remains a major sticking point with Boris Johnson describing it as “moral blackmail” and his rival for Number 10, Jeremy Hunt, insisting it had to “change or go”.

But the nominee for the next president of the European Commission today vowed to defend the backstop in Britain’s withdrawal agreement from the EU to avoid extensive border controls on the island of Ireland.

Ursula von der Leyen told a hearing at the European Parliament that the backstop was “precious, important and has to be defended.”

The backstop, which requires Britain to adopt some EU rules unless a future arrangement is found to keep open the land border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, is contested by leading British politicians who want it changed or scrapped.

The Whitehall recruitment drive comes after the Irish government published its latest contingency plans for a no deal Brexit.

Deputy prime minister Simon Coveney warned a no deal Brexit was an ugly prospect that would put businesses, people and political relationships in the Republic and Northern Ireland under a great deal of strain.

Mr Coveney said: “It will make it more difficult for the institutions of the Good Friday Agreement to function and it will be a fundamental disruptor to the all island economy as it functions today seamlessly.

“There is no sugar coating of that message. For people living in border counties and in Northern Ireland, this will be really difficult.

“In a no deal scenario, while we will prevent physical infrastructure, undoubtedly the imposition of tariffs and the need to protect the integrity of the single market, to keep Ireland in the single market that we have been part of creating, will provide a disruption to the all-island trade which is something that we will all work intensively to avoid.”

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