THERESA MAY has risked angering Brexiteers by saying the controversial backstop in the EU withdrawal agreement will be changed but not removed.
Speaking in Belfast yesterday, the prime minister called it an ‘insurance policy’ against a return to a hard border between Northern Ireland the Republic.
But the Tory European Research Group warned the backstop, which they fear will lead to a permanent customs union, would have to go for a deal to get through Parliament. ‘Even if she doesn’t mean what she said, we still do,’ it said.
Mrs May heads back to Brussels tomorrow for the first time since MPs voted for the measure to be ‘replaced by alternative arrangements’.
‘I’m not proposing to persuade people to accept a deal that doesn’t contain that insurance policy for the future,’ she said.
‘What Parliament has said is that they believe there should be changes made to the backstop.’
The ERG has suggested using technology to avoid customs checks on the border, but Mrs May warned any alternative arrangements ‘must be ones that can be made to work for the particular circumstances of Northern Ireland’.
DUP leader Arlene Foster said the current backstop was ‘toxic’ but stopped short of insisting there could be none. ‘We will be reiterating our opposition to the current backstop,’ she told BBC Radio 4.
But Sinn Fein’s Michelle O’Neill, who is due to meet Mrs May today, accused her of serving up ‘platitudes and promises’.
The government has proposed a time limit on the backstop or allowing the UK a unilateral get-out clause but EU chiefs have insisted the agreement will not be renegotiated.
A spokesman for European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker (pictured), who will meet Mrs May with EU Council president Donald Tusk, said he ‘will look forward to seeing her to pursue these discussions’.
Mrs May is also due to meet Irish leader Leo Varadkar today.
■ THE prime minister has backed a joint UK/Ireland bid to host the 2030 World Cup as a way of maintaining relations after Brexit. Theresa May said during her Belfast trip that both governments support the ‘tantalising possibility’. The five national football governing bodies are ‘in discussions’ about bidding to be the European candidate. England’s last attempt, in 2010 for the 2018 tournament, was lost to Russia.