Thursday 19 September 2019

New Brexit backlash for May's Border declaration

‘Nonsense’: Boris Johnson said the backstop should be rubbished. Photo: PA
‘Nonsense’: Boris Johnson said the backstop should be rubbished. Photo: PA
Laura Larkin

Laura Larkin

Measures to prevent a hard Irish Border make a "complete nonsense of Brexit", Theresa May has been told by furious Tory backbenchers as she struggles to bring the deal to a conclusion.

She faced an intense backlash in the House of Commons over the political declaration on post-Brexit relations agreed with Brussels, with many citing concerns over the customs backstop, the guarantee that keeps the UK in the customs union to prevent the return of a hard Irish Border.

But the British prime minister repeatedly insisted her deal meets the demands of Brexiteers.

On the Border question, the declaration commits that both sides will continue to explore technological solutions to avoiding border infrastructure on the island of Ireland.

Any hope this would help bring on board those who pursued a so-called "maximum facilitation" solution were quickly dashed in parliament when MPs, including Iain Duncan Smith, appeared to dismiss it immediately.

The DUP's Jeffrey Donaldson said there was still an acknowledgement from the EU side that alternatives could be used. "There are alternative arrangements that can be put in place without the need for the backstop," he said.

"If she wants to have the support of my party for the withdrawal agreement, then we need to see an end of the backstop and those alternative arrangements put in place."

One Irish Government source said there was nothing to fear in the document, despite the references to technology.

The issue of the Irish backstop is dealt with comprehensively in the withdrawal agreement, which is a legally binding treaty, they said. But former Conservative foreign secretary Boris Johnson said: "We should junk forthwith the backstop, upon which the future economic partnership - according to this political declaration - is to be based, and which makes a complete nonsense of Brexit."

But Mrs May said her deal delivered what Mr Johnson wanted, telling him: "The future relationship we have set out in the political declaration ends free movement, ends sending vast sums of money to the European Union every year and ends the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice in the United Kingdom.

"It enables us to hold an independent trade policy and to negotiate trade deals around the whole of the world."

And a spokesperson for the Irish Government welcomed the ambition outlined in the draft text.

The declaration represented "a good starting point for the detailed further work that will be needed over the coming months to provide the legal framework for the future relationship", he said.

But former Northern Ireland secretary Theresa Villiers warned the EU would be "unlikely to agree" a future trading agreement with the UK as the backstop in the withdrawal agreement offered more favourable terms.

The declaration proposes an "ambitious, broad, deep and flexible partnership" between the two going forward, with close ties on trade and customs regulation that looks to respect both the sovereignty of the UK and the integrity of the EU single market.

Mrs May is due to meet Jean-Claude Juncker again tomorrow ahead of Sunday's summit, principally to agree that the absolutely final text is ready for EU leaders to sign.

Irish Independent

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