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EU won’t budge on backstop, say Irish

Next step: Theresa
May and husband
Philip leaving
church in her
Maidenhead
constituency
yesterday PICTURE: PA

EUROPE will insist on a Brexit backstop even if MPs try to vote it down, Irish foreign minister Simon Coveney said.

Theresa May’s Brexit deal returns to parliament tomorrow just two weeks after MPs rejected it by a majority of 230, the biggest ever government defeat in the Commons.

More than a dozen amendments have been tabled, with Tory loyalists hoping the deal will be approved on condition the Northern Ireland backstop is dropped.

But Mr Coveney said the backstop was needed to ensure there was no hard border in Ireland and would not be ditched by the EU. ‘The European Parliament will not ratify a Withdrawal Agreement that doesn’t have a backstop in it,’ he told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show. ‘It’s as simple as that.’

Health secretary Matt Hancock dismissed his claim as a ‘negotiating position’ and warned that Britain could be driven to a no-deal Brexit unless MPs back the prime minister.

MPs on the Brexit committee will today demand ministers rule out a no-deal that risks ‘serious delays’ to foods, medicines and manufacturing goods.

Mr Hancock was challenged over claims he told the Cabinet patients could die in the event of a no-deal.

‘I didn’t quite say that,’ he insisted.

But Mrs May was under growing pressure to give up one of her ‘red lines’ after Jean-Claude Juncker said that was the price of concessions. The EU Commission president reportedly offered to drop the demand for a backstop if she would commit to permanent membership of a customs union.

Labour, which is demanding just such membership, accused the PM of trying to ‘bully’ MPs with no-deal.

‘We will do whatever it takes, through parliament, to stop that no-deal scenario from happening,’ tweeted shadow education secretary Angela Rayner.