Wednesday 19 September 2018

Open rebellion? Theresa May fights to keep Brexit plan on track amid major row over Irish border

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May. Photo: REUTERS/Toby Melville
Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May. Photo: REUTERS/Toby Melville

Shaun Connolly

British Prime Minister Theresa May is fighting to keep her Brexit plans on track amid a cabinet row over proposals for the Irish Border, and a potential revolt in the House of Commons.

The UK's proposals for a "backstop" arrangement for the Border are to be published shortly, although Brexit Secretary David Davis is understood to have concerns.

But Mrs May is facing a revolt from Eurosceptic cabinet ministers who fear it could keep the UK tied to the customs union "indefinitely" after Brexit.

Mr Davis has heaped pressure on Mrs May by insisting that there should be a time limit on backstop plans to keep the UK in the customs union after Brexit.

The backstop document is expected to set out an arrangement under which the UK would remain within elements of the EU's customs union, in the event that it is unable to agree a preferred solution for Northern Ireland.

Mrs May shared with her Brexit war cabinet a note detailing her plans for an "Irish backstop" in the event that customs arrangements were still not resolved after 2021.

The note infuriated Eurosceptic ministers because it does not state when the backstop would come to an end.

It threatens to test cabinet unity, with Mr Davis thought to be pushing for a provision to ensure the UK can withdraw unilaterally.

Ministers are also concerned because it does not state that the UK will determine when customs arrangements are completed, which had been one of their key demands.

There are also concerns that the UK will be tied to the rulings of the European Court Justice during the backstop period.

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and Mr Davis are understood to have significant concerns about the backstop in its present form.

Asked if he could stay in his job if the government's backstop proposals did not have his explicit approval, Mr Davis said: "That's a question I think for the prime minister, to be honest."

A senior Conservative said: "There is no mandate for this, more to the point, politically it's very difficult because a lot of Conservatives will be very concerned that we are giving an incentive to the EU to keep the backstop in place forever. There is going to be an almighty row, this is a crazy situation."

Damaging

Meanwhile, there is another group of Tory rebels set to side with Labour over measures aimed at keeping a customs union on the table.

Mrs May engaged in a series of crisis talks to avert a damaging defeat.

But rebel MPs from both sides of the House of Commons are still pushing for a "Norway-style" Brexit agreement.

This would be a Brexit model based on the UK retaining close ties with the single market.

Irish Independent

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