In my recent article (29th August) on “The prorogation gambit”, I wrote:

What could be the basis of a last minute agreement?

a) The British Government agree to accept the withdrawal agreement negotiated by Theresa May unchanged except for:
– Removing formally the “Irish backstop” (A big apparent win for BoJo!)
– Agreeing that, should no acceptable “alternative arrangements” be found to maintain an open border in Ireland before the end of the transition period, Northern Ireland (at least) would remain within the EU customs union until such arrangements were agreed. The UK could end the arrangement unilaterally but only if it offered Northern Ireland the possibility of a Referendum on remaining in the UK or becoming part or the Irish Republic. (a win for the EU preserving the substance of the backstop and an incentive to Ireland to agree)
– Starting the 2 year transition period on November 1 (a win for all citizens and economic actors).

b) The EU would agree:
– To reopen the W/A agreement to insert changes limited to those mentioned above (a tribute to BoJo’s negotiating skills!).
– To initiate the “future EU-UK” relationship negotiations in parallel with preserving the terms of the Good Friday Agreement (giving the appearance of a concession on sequencing).

On the eve of the crucial European summit I believe a compromise along those line is possible:

The withdrawal agreement negotiated by Theresa May’ government would be modified as follows allowing the transition period to kick in on November 1.

Northern Ireland would remain in the EU customs Union beyond 31/12/2020 as long as a Free trade Agreement between the EU and UK had not entered into force.

At the time of ratification of such an FTA (whether before or after 31/12/2020) Northern Ireland would, in light of the Agreements provisions, choose  between remaining within the EU Customs Union or remaining in the UK custom territory.

This allows:

  1. The UK to leave the EU on 31/10/19 fulfilling Boris Johnson’s pledge. 
  2.  To avoid the imposition of a hard customs border on November 1.
  3.  To take into account the preferences of the Norther Irish population (consent)

Let us now wait and see!