Prime Minister Theresa May appeared today to confirm that the backstop proposal for the Irish border would not be removed from her Brexit deal.
She told an audience in Belfast that she would instead seek changes to the controversial backstop plan she had negotiated with the EU as part of the withdrawal deal.
The Prime Minister insisted that her commitment to an open border between Northern Ireland and the Republic was ‘unshakeable.’
Her backstop plan is an insurance policy which aims to avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic after Brexit.
It is opposed by Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and Tory Brexiteers, who say it could become indefinite and lock the UK into a customs union.
They also claim it would create separate rules for the UK and Northern Ireland and threaten the integrity of the union.
DUP leader Arlene Foster said the ‘toxic backstop’ remained the major problem preventing May’s plan from being accepted by her party.
The Prime Minister will put forward backstop alternatives to EU leaders in the hope of breaking the deadlock in Parliament over her deal – MPs voted it down earlier this month.
The alternatives include:
- A trusted trader arrangement to avoid physical checks on goods coming across the border.
- The ‘mutual recognition’ of rules with the EU.
- A range of technological solutions.
She will ask the EU to re-open the withdrawal agreement and allow legally-binding changes to be made to the backstop – something Brussels officials have ruled out.
Speaking in Belfast before her speech, May appeared to acknowledge that any deal will require some form of backstop to keep the border open.
She said: “There is no suggestion that we are not going to ensure in the future there is provision for this insurance policy – the backstop.
“What parliament has said is that they want to see changes to the backstop as it currently exists within the protocol, as part of the withdrawal agreement.”
She said she was grateful for the support shown for the backstop plans by businesses and farming groups in Northern Ireland.
The Prime Minister added that the government’s commitment to avoiding a hard border remained ‘absolute’.
“There’s absolute horror among those who live in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland that we could take a step backwards,” she added.