Wednesday 16 January 2019

Avoiding a hard border in Ireland requires more than simply saying it won't happen, May warns

DUP calls on British government to dump 'poison' Brexit backstop

Theresa May has a fight on her hands to get her deal approved. Photo: REUTERS
Theresa May has a fight on her hands to get her deal approved. Photo: REUTERS
Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

British Prime Minister Theresa May has warned that avoiding a post-Brexit hard border in Ireland won’t happen "simply because people sit around and say 'well we won’t have a border'."

She made the remarks while defending the so-called backstop in her deal with the European Union ahead of a crunch vote in Westminster within the next ten days.

Mrs May is facing an uphill battle to get the deal through the House of Commons amid opposition to the backstop to avoid a hard border among Conservative MPs who fear it would force the UK to comply with EU rules indefinitely.

Speaking on the BBC, Mrs May said the previously postponed Westminster vote on the deal will take place by January 15.

She was asked if she is trying to get concessions from Brussels on the backstop  - either the inclusion of an independent exit mechanism of a time-limit. 

Mrs May replied: “The key concern that members of parliament raised on the backstop was the concern that it could become permanent or it could become indefinite and they need to know that it can be replaced if it’s put into place.

“We and the European Union are very clear, it has been reiterated, if was reiterated at that December Council that this is not intended to be used in the first place and if it is, it is only temporary.

She added that agreeing the future relationship between the UK and EU will be a crucial element of ensuring the backstop is replaced.

“We say, the European Union say, that’s what we want to do. It’s making sure we can give people the confidence, that that will be delivered.”

Presenter Andrew Marr put it Mrs May that the Irish government has said it won’t put up a hard border and the DUP also said they don’t want one and asked “therefore why does there need to be a backstop?”

Mrs May said: “First of all we’re very clear that we will do everything, whatever the circumstances, everything in our power not to have a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland.

“You say ‘well it won’t happen’.

“Actually no border doesn’t happen simply because people sit around and say ‘well we won’t have a border’.

She said it’s “about more than that”.

“It’s about businesses knowing what they do. So if you’re in a situation where you’re operating different tariffs how do businesses deal with that in terms of customs that is going across that border.

“So actually as ever this isn’t just about aspiration.

“It’s about practicality. And that’s the point.

“It’s about making sure that we can guarantee that there will be no hard border… that’s important to us.

“Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom, we owe it to the people of Northern Ireland.”

Mrs May brushed aside questions on whether or not her government would hold a second Brexit referendum if the House of Commons voted for one.

She repeated her view that there shouldn’t be another referendum arguing that it would be disrespecting the vote of the people.

Meanwhile, the DUP called on Theresa May to stand firm in demanding that the EU changes its "poison" backstop provision on Ireland's post-Brexit border.

"In the face of the EU's unwillingness so far to move, it is the duty of the UK Government to stand firm" against the EU's "bad deal" Democratic Unionist Party deputy leader Nigel Dodds said in a statement.

"The backstop remains the poison which makes any vote for the Withdrawal Agreement so toxic," he said. "The coming days will show if this government is made of the right stuff."

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