Thursday 20 June 2019

Government to step up 'no-deal' plans as May offers referendum carrot to MPs

Final roll of the dice: Theresa May’s deal will be voted on for a fourth time in two weeks. Picture: Reuters
Final roll of the dice: Theresa May’s deal will be voted on for a fourth time in two weeks. Picture: Reuters
John Downing

John Downing

The British prime minister has dangled a package of sweeteners, including the possibility of deciding on another referendum, in a final effort to get her Brexit deal ratified.

Theresa May has told MPs she will make a legal commitment to complete negotiations on alternatives to the controversial Irish backstop by December 2020.

She also said she will align Northern Ireland and British rules and regulations should the backstop come into force.

However, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Tánaiste Simon Coveney are holding out little hope for the embattled Mrs May succeeding in her vote in two weeks' time.

They both publicly conceded that the risk of a no-deal Brexit by the deadline of October 31 was now at its highest and vowed to step up preparations to manage that risk.

"With every day that passes, the likelihood of a no-deal Brexit increases," the Taoiseach said.

While Mr Varadkar insisted an orderly Brexit was the most likely outcome, he said preparations for a worst-case scenario must be increased.

He also said Mrs May's latest bid to deliver Brexit appears acceptable to Ireland.

"We have always said that if this Withdrawal Agreement bill doesn't contradict the letter or spirit of the Withdrawal Agreement, including the Irish backstop, well then it's something that we can accept," he told RTÉ.

"It hasn't been published yet so we don't have a formal view on it. From what I've heard, it sounds like it is OK and would be acceptable."

As her ruling Conservative Party faces major losses in tomorrow's European Parliament elections, Mrs May unveiled her fourth vote plan to rescue her legacy.

She will leave office after this final effort - no matter what the outcome.

The most eye-catching measure is a promise to give MPs the chance to set up a confirmatory referendum on whatever version of Brexit they end up approving. That measure is a key demand of the Labour Party.

But a second referendum is also bitterly opposed by Brexit-supporting MPs in her own Conservative Party, whose votes she also needs if she is to get her deal passed.

The British government is aiming for the UK to leave the EU at the end of July - assuming MPs reject a second referendum. Failing that, the deadline is likely to be October 31 with the continuing risk of Brexit without a deal.

Meanwhile, former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern has urged the Government to reach out to the Democratic Unionist Party on Brexit.

He said the DUP had caused a lot of its own problems over Brexit but there was still a lack of understanding about its position on what was a crucial issue for the party.

Irish Independent

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