Published: Thu, February 07, 2019
Worldwide | By Stella Potter

Get Brussels to talk and we will give you more time

Get Brussels to talk and we will give you more time

British Prime Minister Theresa May told business leaders in Northern Ireland Tuesday that she is seeking changes to the Brexit withdrawal agreement but not the total removal of the backstop plan that is the most contentious part of the deal.

As UK Prime Minister Theresa May works to re-open the withdrawal deal - an agreement two years in the making that Brussels insists will not be re-visited - there seems little hope that she can win over support in the House of Commons for her vision of the UK's "divorce" settlement.

May, during a speech Tuesday in Belfast, restated her "unshakable" commitment to avoiding a hard border and said she didn't plan to remove the "insurance policy" entirely. "There is no way to have a unilateral jumping out of the backstop".

After suffering a historic defeat in the Commons on her Brexit deal on January 15, May was allowed by lawmakers to go to Brussels and renegotiate a controversial clause in the agreement which sets out rules for future administration of the Irish border.

The Prime Minister will meet the main Northern Irish parties later as she steps up her bid for a breakthrough on the backstop. Britain said its offer was more liberal and added that it was in discussion with the EU Commission to see if the bloc would extend its offer.

Under this backstop, Northern Ireland would stay aligned to some rules of the European Union single market, meaning that goods crossing the border would need to be checked to see if they meet European Union standards.

British ministers, The Sun newspaper said, have been examining a plan drawn up by Japan's Fujitsu to track trade across the border, while the Telegraph said ministers had discussed delaying Brexit by eight weeks.

She said family ties and friendship between the two countries are more important than they have ever been.

While some may be able to be bought off if she can secure a clear time limit to the backstop, despite European Union reluctance to concede such a firm end date, even this would not satisfy all the Brexiteers.

"While she seems to be talking about looking at alternative arrangements, her reluctance to move past the 29th of March, I think is going to put a lot of pressure on what Westminster can do".

She says "one has to be creative, and we must listen to one another" but that an agreement on the Irish border is still possible.

While Merkel said she did not want the so-called withdrawal agreement renegotiated, she added that hard questions could be resolved with creativity, the strongest hint to date that the EU's most powerful leader could be prepared to compromise.

The free flow of people and goods across the near-invisible border today underpins both the local economy and Northern Ireland's peace process.

Back in London, the prime minister has been criticised for prioritising a compromise with her own backbenchers and the DUP rather than reaching out to secure cross-party support for her deal.

Critics of the backstop argue its lack of any agreed time-limit is unacceptable as it could see the United Kingdom locked into a customs union deal with the EU indefinitely and Northern Ireland kept under EU single market rules.

And it comes a week after MPs voted for an amendment tabled by Conservative grandee Sir Graham Brady and backed by the Prime Minister which "requires the Northern Ireland backstop to be replaced with alternative arrangements to avoid a hard border". But the government said on Tuesday it proposed allowing drivers from the other European Union 27 markets to enter Britain to guarantee that supply chains are protected.

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