May has outlined a plan to change or remove the Northern Ireland backstop from the EU withdrawal agreement. A parliamentary attempt to take control of the withdrawal process appears to be gaining traction.
Ireland on Sunday rejected the possibility of an alternative deal for the Irish border post Brexit, but said it continued to support the backstop as outlined in the Brexit withdrawal agreement.
“We remain united [and] focused on protecting Ireland,” Irish Deputy Prime Minister Simon Coveney wrote on Twitter. “That includes continued support for the EU/UK agreed [Withdrawal Agreement] in full, including the Backstop as negotiated.”
UK Prime Minister Theresa May held a conference call with ministers on Sunday afternoon, outlining a plan for a position on the backstop that her Conservative members and her Northern Irish supporters in the DUP would support.
Earlier in the day, The Sunday Times said aides to May believed a deal with Dublin would remove the huge opposition to the country’s withdrawal agreement setting out its divorce from the European Union.
A ‘mystery’ to Germany’s Heiko Maas
Following the report, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said it was unclear how talks between Britain and Ireland on the backstop issue would work.
“We have to negotiate and also agree a withdrawal agreement with Britain. It is a bit of a mystery to me what the British government wants to negotiate with Dublin or what sort of an additional agreement it should be,” Maas told public broadcaster ZDF.
“It wouldn’t have any effect on what was agreed with the [European] Commission,” he added.
May lost a parliamentary vote on the deal last week, having failed to win the support of pro-Brexit rebel lawmakers in her own party and the DUP, which props up her minority government.
Many MPs oppose the backstop that the European Union insists on as a guarantee to avoid a hard border between the Irish Republic, which remains an EU member, and Northern Ireland, which will leave with the rest of the UK on March 29.
Last Tuesday’s defeat left Britain facing the prospect of no deal to smooth its exit from the EU in little more than two months’ time.
New options due
On Monday, May is due to announce in Parliament how she plans to proceed, after holding discussions with other political parties in the wake of the landslide vote.
The newspaper later updated its own story saying the Irish government was not supportive of the treaty plan. It cited senior Irish government sources who said May’s proposal was “not something we would entertain.”
May’s office, meanwhile, described as “extremely concerning” reports that senior Conservative politicians were plotting for Parliament to seize control of Brexit.
British media reported that one group of MPs plans to table a motion this week that would suspend the country’s withdrawal process under the EU’s Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty.
Other politicians are said to be planning an amendment making it impossible for Britain to leave the EU without a deal.
“The British public voted to leave the European Union, and it is vital that elected politicians deliver upon that verdict,” a Downing Street spokeswoman said.
“Any attempt to remove the government’s power to meet the legal conditions of an orderly exit at this moment of historic significance is extremely concerning.”
International Trade Secretary Liam Fox warned of a “political tsunami” if MPs fail to deliver on the 2016 referendum vote to leave the EU.
Writing in The Sunday Telegraph, he slammed those calling for May to rule out a no-deal Brexit — a key demand of the main opposition Labour Party — saying the “most stupid thing possible” in a negotiation is to “give away your strongest card.”
rs, mm/jm (AFP, Reuters)