Tuesday 16 July 2019

EU presses May to work with Corbyn on Brexit

Internal struggle: UK Prime Minister Theresa May at Downing Street yesterday as she gears up for another big week for her Brexit deal. Photo: Reuters
Internal struggle: UK Prime Minister Theresa May at Downing Street yesterday as she gears up for another big week for her Brexit deal. Photo: Reuters

Laura Larkin and Ralph Riegel

British Prime Minister Theresa May will update parliament today on her progress with Brussels, as the EU moved to press her to work with Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn.

Mr Corbyn's terms for supporting Brexit include a customs union with the EU, something Mrs May has ruled out.

EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier described the Labour proposals as "interesting" last night, warning that time was "extremely short" to ratify a deal.

With just 45 days to go to Brexit, nine Government departments will today update Cabinet on their work on the so-called omnibus bill to prepare Ireland for a no-deal Brexit. The legislation will be published on Friday, as various ministers meet with Oireachtas committees to discuss their sections of the unprecedented bill.

In London, there are plans for Mrs May and Mr Corbyn to meet again to discuss a path forward amid growing Tory concern that any ground ceded to the party will be detrimental to the Conservative Party.

Tánaiste Simon Coveney met with Labour's Brexit spokesman Keir Starmer in Dublin last night, but insisted it would not be helpful for Ireland to interfere in internal British politics.

"What we want to see are the two large parties in Westminster working together to find a way of getting consensus and a strong majority to provide so many people with certainty around Brexit," he said.

"But that is a matter for Westminster as a parliament and for Theresa May as a prime minister.

"She has to manage the politics of Brexit. We are at a ratification process of a deal done last November - it is a deal that Ireland and the EU signed up to and that the British government also signed up to."

But the backstop remains the crucial issue for Mrs May, who found cold comfort in Brussels on the idea of changing the terms of the insurance policy against the Irish Border.

Negotiations continue to find a way to break the impasse, but Brussels has repeatedly ruled out re-negotiating the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement.

The Alternative Arrangements Working Group in the House of Commons - a group of MPs who are seeking a means of replacing the troublesome elements of the backstop - met with UK Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay yesterday before he travelled to Brussels.

DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds said: "Whilst the focus will return to Brexit in parliament this week, the backstop remains the central problem and it must be dealt with.

"The prime minister has committed to securing legally binding changes to the Withdrawal Agreement. Those changes will be required for parliament to support any deal."

He said if the political will is there a deal can be reached in the coming weeks.

"The alternative is to cling to an unacceptable backstop which actually increases the chances of an outcome it was supposedly designed to prevent. It can make no sense for anyone to continue pursuing such a perverse policy," he said.

Former foreign secretary Boris Johnson has appeared to soften his stance on the backstop, signalling that a time-limit or an exit mechanism would convince him to support Mrs May's deal.

The leading Brexiteer's shift in position will be welcome for the internal battle facing Mrs May to unite her party around Brexit, but the solutions being touted by him will not pass muster with the EU.

Meanwhile, former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern will appear before the House of Commons Committee on Exiting the EU tomorrow, a day before MPs debate Brexit again before the latest a series of votes.

Irish Independent

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