TORY PM Theresa May pledged in a speech to business leaders in Belfast yesterday to confirm her commitment ‘to deliver a Brexit which ensures no return to a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, which is unshakeable.’ However, she revealed that she was not asking for the Backstop to be removed, only amended.
She said that changes to the Backstop would be secured to ensure it was not permanent. In the question/answer session afterwards she again admitted that she is not for removing the Backstop.
The Belfast Telegraph asked: ‘Prime Minister, given that many business figures in this room feel that you have betrayed and shafted them on the Backstop in your latest U-turn, why should they believe any of the pledges that you have made to them today in terms of avoiding a hard border?’
May replied: ‘First of all let’s be very clear about this, you have used the phrase U-turn in your question. There is no suggestion that we are not going to ensure that in the future there is provision, it has been called an insurance policy, the Backstop, that ensures that if the future relationship is not in place by the end of the implementation period, there will be arrangements in place to ensure that we deliver no hard border.
Our commitment to that remains.
‘What Parliament has said, what the House of Commons 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.’
During her speech she announced that she will meet today with Irish politicians from ‘all parties’. May said: ‘I fought hard to make the case for the deal as it stands and believed that it could command a majority in the House of Commons.
‘But I have had to face up to the fact that in its current form it cannot, and the need for changes to the Backstop is the key issue. While there were those in Northern Ireland who spoke in favour of it, is also true that the Backstop is not supported by the two main Unionist parties here.
‘It also influenced MPs in England, Scotland and Wales in voting against the deal.
‘I can only deliver on the commitments we have made if we can get a deal through the UK Parliament.
‘And meetings with MPs across the House show that I can only get a deal through Parliament, if legal changes are made to the Backstop. That is why the UK government and a majority of MPs from across the House of Commons supported the amendment from Sir Graham Brady last week.
‘It reaffirms our desire to leave with a deal and our commitment to no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland. And as Sir Graham set out it would mean replacing the Backstop with another arrangement which avoids a hard border, or making legally binding changes to the Backstop to induce a time limit or create an exit mechanism.’
However Brady’s amendment added to the EU Withdrawal motion: ‘… and requires the Northern Ireland Backstop to be replaced with alternative arrangements to avoid a hard border; supports leaving the European Union with a deal and would therefore support the Withdrawal Agreement subject to this change.’ This makes certain that there are going to be many more rows when May returns to London.