PM to meet main NI parties as she engages on backstop

PM to meet main NI parties as she engages on backstop

In her efforts to break the impasse over her Brexit deal, May signalled she will seek changes rather than outright removing the backstop, which is created to preserve the open border between Northern Ireland and European Union member state Ireland.

The key challenge, which she will discuss with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker in Brussels on Thursday, stems from the future status of the border between the Republic of Ireland (which will remain in the EU) and Northern Ireland (which is scheduled to leave the Brussels-based club along with England, Scotland and Wales at the end of next month).

During a speech Tuesday in Belfast, May restated her "unshakeable" commitment to avoiding a hard border and said she didn't plan to remove the "insurance policy" entirely.

May's ally in Northern Ireland, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) is concerned the backstop would see Northern Ireland treated differently from the rest of the UK.

"We are now 51 days from the Brexit deadline and the British Prime Minister has come here empty handed with the same old rhetoric with no plan, no credibility and frankly no honour", she said.

But she is expected to be greeted with a united front from the European Union, with Mr Tusk due to meet with Leo Varadkar later on Wednesday in a show of solidarity with Ireland over the issue of the backstop.

As Brussels waits for Britain to set out its plans, diplomats and officials in the rest of the European Union are increasingly expecting a delay to Brexit, due to take place on 29 March.

Varadkar said he was concerned that the "alternative arrangements" May was talking about were an unworkable revisit to things that had already been rejected.

He declined to repeat his previous suggestion that the backstop could be given a five-year time limit - something Brussels and Dublin have rejected.

May, on a visit to Belfast on Tuesday, tried to reassure Northern Ireland that she can deliver an orderly Brexit that will ensure peace in a province riven by three decades of sectarian conflict until a 1998 accord.

The EU has said the withdrawal agreement is not open for renegotiation, while signalling that some changes might be possible in the political declaration that sets out the future relationship between the United Kingdom and the EU. "It must be how, together, we move forwards to shape the opportunities of the future".

"Now if that can't be obtained then I think it will be hard to get a majority in the House of Commons - particularly after the last vote", he warned.

"There certainly are voices that argue circumstances have changed but probably this isn't the most propitious time to begin that conversation", he said.

"We need to bear in mind that this majority that did exist in the House of Commons for "alternative arrangements" probably only exists because alternative arrangements can mean whatever you want them to mean", Mr Varadkar said.

In his Daily Telegraph column, Mr Johnson said the Conservatives would go into an early election with "a hole in the heart of our manifesto" because they do not have a settled European Union policy.

But Wallace said a solution would be found and accused politicians on both sides of the Brexit debate of spouting "hot air" on the border matter.

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.

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