May appoints Brexit hardliners to backstop working group

Steve Baker warns PM she will face another defeat for Brexit deal if she fails to renegotiate withdrawal agreement

Britain’s prime minister Theresa May: the  official working group is  charged with finding “alternative arrangements” to replace the Northern Ireland backstop. Photograph:  Reuters/Henry Nicholls

Britain’s prime minister Theresa May: the official working group is charged with finding “alternative arrangements” to replace the Northern Ireland backstop. Photograph: Reuters/Henry Nicholls

 

Theresa May has appointed three hardline Brexiteers to an official working group charged with finding “alternative arrangements” to replace the Northern Ireland backstop. Brexiteers Steve Baker, Owen Patterson and Marcus Fysh will join Remainer former ministers Damian Green and Nicky Morgan in the working group which will meet for the first time on Monday.

“The government is establishing an Alternative Arrangements Working Group which will hold regular meetings with Steve Barclay, the secretary of state for exiting the EU. Officials from HMRC, Cabinet Office Europe Unit, Number 10 and other relevant departments will support this, and ministers will be able to commission advice from them,” Downing Street said in a statement on Sunday night.

The announcement came hours after Mr Baker warned the prime minister that she will face another defeat for her Brexit deal if she fails to renegotiate the legally binding withdrawal agreement. Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, Ms May suggested a liberal interpretation of the amendment MPs backed last Tuesday which called for the backstop to be replaced with alternative arrangements to ensure the Border remains open.

Graham Brady, whose amendment MPs united around, made it clear that while replacing the backstop with alternative arrangements was one option, he would also be happy with the current backstop if there was a time limit or unilateral exit mechanism,” she wrote.

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Mr Baker said, however, that Conservative Brexiteers had only backed the amendment on the understanding that Mrs May would pursue the “Malthouse compromise” which calls for a tariff-free area and maximum facilitation of customs to replace the backstop.

“Leave-backing MPs voted to support alternative arrangements in NI but with grave misgivings about the whole agreement. Now the PM co-opts us into accepting everything but the backstop and, on the backstop, accepting a codicil,” he said.

“The right way forward is the Malthouse compromise. If all we see is a codicil – a ‘joint interpretive instrument’ – expect a further substantial defeat for the agreement.”

Technological solutions

Home secretary Sajid Javid said attorney general Geoffrey Cox would lead the government’s effort to secure a unilateral exit mechanism or a time limit to the backstop. The EU has ruled out both of those options and stated that adequate technological solutions to keep the Border open have not been developed. 

Mr Javid said that Britain’s border control agency told him existing technology could avert the need for a hard Border.

“I asked Border Force months ago to advise me, to look at what alternative arrangements are possible, and they’ve shown me quite clearly you can have no hard border on the island of Ireland and you can use existing technology. It’s perfectly possible. The only thing that’s missing is a bit of goodwill on the EU side,” he said.

Nissan confirmed on Sunday that it is shelving plans to build a new vehicle at its Sunderland plant, citing uncertainty over Brexit as a problem for businesses as they plan for the future. Last week, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) reported that British car production had fallen to a five-year low in 2018 as fears of a no-deal Brexit inhibited new investment.

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