Summary of Just a Little Brexit?

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In the continuing saga of Brexit, a withdrawal agreement provides for the temporary continuance of European Union customs jurisdiction for Northern Ireland. But staunch Brexiters claim this backstop would constrain the United Kingdom’s ability to conclude new trade arrangements. In this perceptive briefing that predates the agreement on the Irish trade border, economist Jacques Pelkmans examines the particulars of a 2019 proposal for “dual autonomy” that could give both parties the best of both worlds: preserve Irish open-border trade while simultaneously respecting an independent United Kingdom and European Union rules.

About the Author

Jacques Pelkmans is an associate senior fellow at the Centre for European Policy Studies.



Maintaining the free movement of goods over the Irish border is of paramount importance.

Obstructions to open trade between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland risk undermining the late 1990s’ peace agreement. A reversion to the preceding era of violence serves no one’s interest.

Those considerations notwithstanding, the 2018 Brexit backstop “Withdrawal Agreement’s Protocol” specifies that the EU customs union will continue to govern the border, at least temporarily. This provision carries the prospect of becoming permanent, though, as negotiations over the full terms of the separation are likely to take years to complete. A long-term EU customs jurisdiction would be untenable, as it would prevent the United Kingdom’s resumption of control...

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