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Brexiteers dismiss May’s attempt to replace backstop in withdrawal agreement

Inside Politics: Amendment calling for alternative arrangements to avoid hard border does not detail what these are

Good morning.

Who was it who once said, albeit in a different context, that if you feed a crocodile it will only come back looking for more?

Perhaps Theresa May now appreciates the sentiment of the famously inflammatory phase used by DUP leader Arlene Foster, May’s confidence-and-supply partner, about Sinn Féin.

May had sought the backing of her entire party for a House of Commons amendment that would seek to replace the backstop in the Brexit withdrawal agreement.


The amendment, from Sir Graham Brady, the chair of the Tory backbench 1922 committee, calls for the backstop to be replaced for alternative arrangements to avoid a hard border without spelling out what they actually are.

May told her MPs she will back the Brady amendment, and her move to try and replace the backstop is our lead today.

Yet a proposal likely to be rejected outright by Brussels has also been pooh poohed by Jacob Rees-Mogg and his hardline Brexiteers in the European Research Group (ERG) for not going far enough.

As Denis Staunton notes in his analysis, it means May cannot win parliamentary backing for her deal based on Conservative and DUP votes. Doing so was the basis of her strategy in recent weeks.

The latest development will also confirm the view among many in the EU that the backstop is not the only issue hardline Brexiteers will use to scupper any agreement. One source remarked in recent days that if the backstop didn’t exist, Brexiteers would latch on to some other problem, such as the divorce payment the UK will pay the EU.

Foster - whose DUP is now in league with hardline Brexiteers in Westminster - once had a phrase for such behaviour.

The effects of a no-deal Brexit were also spelled out to MPs yesterday by leading retailers such as Marks & Spencer, Asda and Lidl, who said supermarket shelves could be empty if the UK crashes out without a deal.

Simon Carswell reports Dublin City Council will only lift the ban on heavy goods vehicles passing through the city centre "in exceptional circumstances" if there are Brexit-related delays at Dublin Port. Paschal Donohoe will also bring a memo to Cabinet on the economic effects of a no-deal Brexit.

In his analysis, Pat Leahy writes recent wobbles from Dublin show pressure on the backstop is beginning to tell as Brexit day approaches at the end of March.

Nurses strike goes ahead

The planned strike by the INMO tomorrow will see the Government come under pressure on another front. Martin Wall reports overnight from the Labour Court, where exploratory talks ended without any resolution after midnight.

The first one-day stoppage will, it seems likely, now go ahead tomorrow as planned, with more promised over the coming weeks. Thus far, the Government’s position not to accede to any demands from nurses for increased pay has held.

The HSE has warned the strike will lead to widespread disruption to services, with more than 15,000 patients facing the cancellation of planned procedures or outpatient appointments.

Recent days have seen some mixed messages from within the Government apparatus, with suggestions of a special commission to look at the level of nurses’ pay floated from some quarters but shot down by others.

There is also a lingering and long-established suspicion in the Departments of Finance and Public Expenditure that the Department of Health has been overly friendly to nursing and other health unions, and needs its spine stiffened at moments of trouble.

How the Government handles the strike will be a clear indication of which side won the argument in Government.

Best Reads

In the Independent, Kevin Doyle reports gardaí recently investigated a plot by anti-eviction protesters to evict female Ministers from their homes.

Fintan O'Toole asks why the DUP does not care about the Brexit-related loss of jobs in Belfast.

Joe Brennan reports the Central Bank says a Sinn Féin Bill that would prevent a bank from selling a mortgage without the borrower's consent could trigger unintended consequences, such as an increase in interest rates.



Leaders’ Questions is at 2pm, followed by the Order of Business.

Motions on the amendment of orders for the special joint Oireachtas committee on climate change and on the Minamata convention will be taken without debate.

Taoiseach’s Questions is just after 3pm.

Tánaiste Simon Coveney will take foreign affairs questions, followed by topical issues.

The National Surplus (Reserve Fund for Exceptional Contingencies) Bill 2018 - which set up a rainy day fund - is at second stage, as is the Prohibition of Above Cost Ticket Touting Bill 2017.

Sinn Féin’s PMB on mortgage transfers - called No Consent, No Sale 2019 - is at second stage.


The Upper House will also pass a motion on the climate action committee.

John Horan, the GAA president, will address the Seanad.

There will be statements on directly elected mayors, and the Judicial Appointments Bill continues its tortoise-like progress.


Minister for Health Simon Harris is at the health committee to discuss cost overruns at the National Children’s Hospital.

Joe Hayes, the chairman-designate of the National Council for Special Education, is at the education committee. The committee will also unveil a report on Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE).

The Agriculture Committee scrutinises EU legislative proposals.

The Irish Language, Gaeltacht and the Islands Committee also meets.