Saturday 20 July 2019

Theresa May says her commitment to avoiding a hard border in Ireland is 'unshakeable'

British Prime Minister Theresa May speaks with business representatives at Allstate in Belfast on her Brexit plans . Photo: Liam McBurney/PA Wire
British Prime Minister Theresa May speaks with business representatives at Allstate in Belfast on her Brexit plans . Photo: Liam McBurney/PA Wire
Laura Larkin

Laura Larkin

British Prime Minister Theresa May denied making a u-turn on the backstop and said there will be an insurance policy to avoid a hard border in Ireland but changes must be made to the backstop in its current form.

Mrs May said there will be an insurance policy - a backstop - in place to prevent the re-emergence of a border on the island of Ireland but said parliament has made it clear that the backstop must be altered if it is to command support.

The legal protocol to ensure a border is not needed if a future trade deal cannot be signed before the end of the transition period was the word on which her deal fell in the House of Commons amid fears that it will tie the UK to the EU indefinitely.

She said discussions were ongoing with MPs on how legal changes could be made to the backstop.

In a speech designed to quell fears among the business community in Northern Ireland the UK will do everything in its power to avoid a hard border in the event of a no deal Brexit and would have discussions with the EU and Ireland if that arises.

She insisted her commitment to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland is “unshakeable” and said she wants to “work closely” with the Irish government on strengthening links between the two countries.

British Prime Minister Theresa May leaves after speaking with business representatives at Allstate in Belfast on her Brexit plans. Photo: Liam McBurney/PA Wire
British Prime Minister Theresa May leaves after speaking with business representatives at Allstate in Belfast on her Brexit plans. Photo: Liam McBurney/PA Wire

Speaking in Belfast this afternoon on the first day of a two-day visit, Mrs May pledged to secure a Brexit deal that will honour the UK’s commitment to Northern Ireland.

She said the principles of the Good Friday Agreement will ”forever be honoured by the British government”.

Mrs May added her government will find a way to deliver Brexit that upholds the commitments made in December 2017 in the joint report.

She said that the UK's relationship with Ireland runs deeper than with any of the other 27 member states.

And she said she wants to work closely with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and the Government to strengthen the bilateral relationship between the two countries, and said “new ways of coming together” would be established post-Brexit.

Mrs May was speaking at the Belfast offices of tech company Allstate Northern Ireland.

On the backstop Mrs May said she fought hard to win support for the deal she secured with the EU but that it did not command support.

Mrs May said she knows that the idea of making changes to the backstop “creates real anxieties in Ireland and Northern Ireland” as it is “here consequences must be felt”.

The British Prime Minister said she will stand by the commitment in the joint report agreed in December 2017 to avoiding a hard border.

However, while saying that the proposed alternative arrangements must protect the particular circumstances of Northern Ireland Mrs May did not spell out how those alternative arrangements would work.

She will meet with business leaders and visit a cross community facility today before meeting with political leaders to discuss the restoration of power-sharing at Stormont.

The embattled Tory leader will jet to Brussels on Thursday to seek a re-opening of negotiations on her Brexit deal in order to win concessions on the controversial backstop.

She is scheduled to meet with Jean Claude Juncker before meeting with Michel Barnier’s taskforce.

The EU has so far been resolute in its refusal to consider re-opening the Withdrawal Agreement.

Her visit to Brussels comes a day after Mr Varadkar meets with EU leaders there.

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