Brexit deal likely to include Border backstop, UK Labour says

Former Brexit secretary claims Coveney was open to discussing unilateral backstop exit

Labour’s shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer on the Andrew Marr Show on Sunday. Photograph: Jeff Overs/BBC/PA

Labour’s shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer on the Andrew Marr Show on Sunday. Photograph: Jeff Overs/BBC/PA


Any Brexit deal is likely to include a backstop to guarantee there will be no hard border in Ireland, Labour’s shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer has acknowledged. He said Labour was still unhappy with the backstop but admitted that it was too late to attempt to remove it from the withdrawal agreement.

“There are problems with this backstop, there are risks that are real. But I think because we’re at this stage of the exercise, nearly two years in, the chance now of a deal that doesn’t have a backstop are very, very slim and we’d have to accept that and proceed from there,” he told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has repeatedly criticised the backstop on the grounds that it would introduce new regulatory barriers between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom. Sir Keir’s remarks reflect a move within the Labour leadership to accept that the text of the withdrawal agreement cannot be reopened and that any changes to prime minister Theresa May’s deal must focus on the political declaration about the future relationship between Britain and the European Union.

Downing Street on Sunday distanced itself from a report that Mrs May wanted to replace the backstop with a bilateral treaty between Britain and Ireland. Sources in Dublin and Brussels dismissed the idea of a bilateral approach, not least because the EU has sole competence in issues such as customs, which determine the nature of the border.

Unilateral exit mechanism

Former Brexit secretary Dominic Raab said Mrs May’s deal could win a majority in parliament if it included a unilateral exit mechanism from the backstop. He claimed that Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney had been open to discussing such a proposal during their talks.

“They got ruled out when Leo Varadkar, who’s less moderate than Simon Coveney, and for him the real issue is that they’ve taken this incredibly deeply political view on the backstop which has got nothing to do with the realities of solving and avoiding a return to the hard border, and now we need to make sure there’s a ladder for them to climb down,” he said.

The prime minister will make a statement to MPs on Monday on how she plans to proceed with Brexit, introducing a motion that will be amendable ahead of a debate next week. International trade secretary Liam Fox accused MPs who want to rule out a no-deal Brexit by tabling amendments of attempting to steal Brexit from the voters.

“You’ve got a Leave population and a Remain parliament. Parliament has not got the right to hijack the Brexit process, because parliament said to the people of this country: ‘We will make a contract with you, you will make the decision and we will honour it.’ What we’re now getting from some of those who were always absolutely opposed to the result of referendum, trying to hijack Brexit and in fact steal the result from the people,” he said.