Theresa May promises not to let Northern Ireland down as Brexit backstop talks flounder
Liam McBurney - WPA Pool/Getty Images
- Theresa May promises to not let Northern Ireland down.
- The prime minister will on Tuesday make a speech in Northern Ireland in which she'll reassure communities there that she will not let Brexit damage its relationship with Ireland or Great Britain.
- "I know this is a concerning time for many people here in Northern Ireland. But we will find a way to deliver Brexit that honours our commitments to Northern Ireland," May is set to say.
- The prime minister wants the EU to make legal changes to the Brexit deal in order to get it through UK Parliament.
- MPs strongly oppose the Northern Irish backstop.
LONDON - Theresa May will on Tuesday seek to reassure the people of Northern Ireland that her mission to get a Brexit deal through the UK Parliament will not create a hard border between the province and Ireland.
Brexit talks are currently floundering after the prime minster announced plans to travel to Brussels in an attempt to persuade EU leaders to make legally-binding changes to the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement agreed between the two sides last year, but rejected by MPs in the House of Commons.
Conservative MPs and the Democratic Unionist Party that props up May's government rejected her deal, partly due to their ferocious opposition to the backstop, which is designed to avoid a hard Irish border in all circumstances.
However, before she heads to mainland Europe, May will today give a speech in Northern Ireland in which she'll reassure communities that the UK government will not abandon its commitments to them.
"I know this is a concerning time for many people here in Northern Ireland. But we will find a way to deliver Brexit that honours our commitments to Northern Ireland," May is set to say.
"…that commands broad support across the community in Northern Ireland… and that secures a majority in the Westminster Parliament, which is the best way to deliver for the people of Northern Ireland."
The prime minister is set to stay in Northern Ireland overnight and meet with political leaders there on Wednesday.
May's two objectives are to maintain the invisible between Northern Ireland and Republic but make sure that this endeavor doesn't lead to new border checks between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom.
There is also strong concern that if it came into effect, the backstop could leave the UK wedded to EU rules for years after Brexit, with no say over those rules and unable to sign new free trade deals with other countries.
The prime minister knows that failure to deliver on those objectives will make it incredibly difficult to get her deal through the House of Commons. A huge majority of 230 MPs rejected the deal last month.
May will have been encouraged by reports from Brussels that senior EU official Martin Selmayr, told UK MPs that the EU could add a legally-binding reassurance on the backstop to the Withdrawal Agreement.
Seylmayr, righthand man to European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, hosted the UK Brexit Committee in Brussels on Monday in an attempt to discover what sort of Brexit deal the UK Parliament would accept.
He told members of the visiting Brexit committee that the EU would be prepared to make a legal promise that it doesn't want to trap the UK in a permanent customs union, the Times reports.
This would likely take the form of a document which is attached to the Withdrawal Agreement, such as a codicil.
However, Selmayr quickly shot down subsequent suggestions that the EU was willing to re-negotiate the Withdrawal Agreement.
He tweeted: "On the EU side, nobody is considering this. Asked whether any assurance would help to get the Withdrawal Agreement through the Commons, the answers of MPs were ... inconclusive .... The meeting confirmed that the EU did well to start its no deal preparations in December 2017."
Conservative MP Stephen Crabb, who was among the MP who met Selmayr in Brussels on Monday, tweeted: "Near zero appetite around Brussels for reopening Withdrawal Agreement. Support for Backstop and Irish Gov v solid. For EU, it's not just a question of Good Friday Agreement. Concerns over an open backdoor into single market."
Our Brexit Insider Facebook group is the best place for up-to-date news and analysis about Britain's departure from the EU, direct from Business Insider's political reporters. Join here.