The current backstop agreement, also known as the Northern Ireland Protocol, is a key issue in the ongoing Brexit negotiations. Essentially, the backstop is a legal assurance designed to prevent a hard border between Northern Ireland (which will remain part of the UK) and the Republic of Ireland (which will remain part of the EU).
The backstop was first proposed in the draft Withdrawal Agreement negotiated between the UK and EU in November 2018. It would see Northern Ireland remaining aligned with some EU regulations and customs arrangements, even as the rest of the UK leaves the EU. This would ensure that goods could continue to flow freely across the border without the need for customs checks or other border infrastructure.
However, the backstop has proved highly controversial, both within the UK and in the EU. Critics argue that it would effectively create a border down the Irish Sea, separating Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK. They also argue that it could be used by the EU to exert control over the UK, since the backstop would only be temporary and the UK would need EU approval to exit it.
Despite this, the EU has insisted that the backstop must be included in any Withdrawal Agreement, since it is seen as essential for ensuring the integrity of the EU`s Single Market and Customs Union. The UK government, meanwhile, has sought to renegotiate the backstop or find alternative solutions in order to avoid a no-deal Brexit.
As of August 2019, there has been no resolution to the backstop issue, with both sides continuing to hold firm on their positions. This has raised concerns about a potential no-deal Brexit, which would see the UK leave the EU without any Withdrawal Agreement in place and could have significant economic and political consequences.