If I understand correctly there are two parts to the backstop in the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill.

First, if the future relationship has not been agreed before December 2020 then “backstop 1” is triggered whereby the UK (or is it just Northern Ireland?) remains inside the Single Market and Customs Union, with the commensurate regulatory alignment. This is timebound to “one or two years”..

Second, if the future relationship has not been agreed by December 2022 (ie. the end of the “one or two years”, then the UK remains inside a customs union with the EU in perpetuity, until such time as a solution to the Irish border is agreed.

Is my understanding correct?

1 Answer 1


Roughly speaking (since there are a lot of details), in the November deal it was agreed that:

  • in the transition period (by default ending in December 2020) the entire UK is bound by EU single-market regulations, but is not taking part in EU decision making.
  • in the post-transition backstop, Northern Ireland (NI) is going to be the most signficant EU rule-taker (in the UK), with the rest of the UK being in a more "bare-bones" custom union with the EU. But how bare-bones is that UK-wide union is a matter of debate. The EU FAQ on the matter lists mostly what's included, which is quite a lot, from environmental stuff, labor policies, external tariffs, some tax-avoidance issues, etc. One needs to find some external commentaries to figure out what's not included (except for the obviously stated fisheries)... But there are some things which are not in the UK-wide [backstop] customs union, which includes VAT alignment, or the UK not having to make EU budget payments from collected tariffs going to EU markets.

I haven't heard of anyone referring to the transition period as "backstop 1" or some such. The transition period can also be extended, but only by mutual agreement.

  • In my question backstop 1 and backstop 2 refer to "the backstop" and "the backstop to the backstop."
    – 52d6c6af
    Commented Mar 15, 2019 at 21:04
  • @Ben: I don't know where you get those terms from; there's a transition period and then there's a backstop. No ""backstop to the backstop". Commented Mar 15, 2019 at 22:13
  • Please can you confirm that in the backstop, the UK will be in a customs union, but not in the Single Market?
    – 52d6c6af
    Commented Mar 17, 2019 at 17:29
  • 1
    @Ben; yes, the keyword here being a customs union (with rather intricate but partial features), not quite the same as being in a "full" customs union, only Northern Ireland is going to apply the full EU code (UCC) during the backstop.. Commented Mar 17, 2019 at 22:07

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