Backstop assurances unlikely to tilt odds in favour of May

Prime minister expected to seek EU concessions following presumed Commons defeat

British prime minister Theresa May remains convinced that the DUP’s 10 MPs are the key to unlocking the support of Conservative Brexiteers for her deal. Photograph: Andy Rain/EPA

British prime minister Theresa May remains convinced that the DUP’s 10 MPs are the key to unlocking the support of Conservative Brexiteers for her deal. Photograph: Andy Rain/EPA

 

The Taoiseach’s confirmation that Britain can expect further written assurances on the Northern Ireland backstop will be welcome in Downing Street, as Theresa May’s Brexit deal faces almost certain defeat in the House of Commons next week. The prime minister, who hosted some Conservative MPs for drinks at No 10 on Monday evening, has promised domestic reassurances alongside those from Brussels.

Mrs May remains convinced that the Democratic Unionist Party’s 10 MPs are the key to unlocking the support of Conservative Brexiteers for her deal. But the DUP demands legally-binding changes to the border backstop that would make it time-limited or give Britain a unilateral exit mechanism. The party also wants the Northern Ireland Assembly to have a veto over any further regulatory alignment with the European Union after Brexit.

None of these demands is acceptable to the EU, which is adamant that the text of the withdrawal agreement cannot be reopened and that clarifications on the backstop cannot contradict its definition in the agreement. The EU is also queasy about the prospect of what one senior official described as “a conveyer belt of concessions” without a cast-iron guarantee that they would win a majority for the deal in parliament.

Concessions

The expectation at Westminster is that, if the deal is rejected next week, Mrs May will return to Brussels to seek further concessions as the March 29th deadline draws closer. One option is to craft an amendment that outlines the concessions needed from the EU and to win a majority for that before going back to Brussels.

The prime minister’s room for manoeuvre has increased, partly because after last month’s confidence vote her leadership cannot be challenged until next December. The case for her Brexit deal grows stronger as other options such as Canada-plus and Norway-plus fall away because of lack of time and support.

MPs will seek on Tuesday to demonstrate that a majority opposes a no-deal Brexit, which is now the favoured option for hardline Brexiteers. Brexiteers who want no deal and the Remainers who want a second referendum both believe they can achieve their goal by remaining implacable in opposition to the prime minister’s deal.

In this atmosphere, written assurances on the backstop are unlikely to be robust enough to persuade many of May’s critics in her own party to change their minds about the deal. But as the cliff edge approaches, the prime minister’s argument that her deal delivers Brexit with minimum disruption could become more persuasive.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.