May to tell House of Commons about her next Brexit move
Downing Street dismisses reports it wanted bilateral alternative to backstop
UK prime minister Theresa May will tell MPs on Monday how she plans to proceed with Brexit, amid cross-party moves to rule out leaving the European Union without a deal.
Downing Street dismissed a report that she would propose replacing the Northern Ireland backstop with a bilateral treaty between London and Dublin. But international trade secretary Liam Fox said on Sunday that the impasse over the backstop could be resolved by finding another way to ensure there would be no hard border.
“It’s getting an agreement with Ireland on an alternative mechanism to ensure that we don’t get friction across the Northern Ireland-Ireland border,” he told the BBC.
“I’m not asking them to change their position. We actually agree that, no matter what, there should be an agreement that ensures that there’s no hard border between the United Kingdom and Ireland. The question is can we achieve what the Irish Government wants and what we want by a different mechanism?”
A cross-party group of MPs have tabled amendments to Mrs May’s motion on Monday that would take control of the parliamentary agenda to ensure the UK government could not block alternatives to the prime minister’s plan. One amendment would require the prime minister to postpone Brexit until the end of the year if she fails to win a majority in parliament for a deal by the middle of next month.
After the defeat of her Brexit deal last week, Mrs May met other party leaders and MPs from all parties to establish what changes would be necessary to secure a majority. But Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has refused to meet her until she rules out a no-deal Brexit and stops spending public funds on preparations for it.
“May’s no-deal threat is empty and hugely expensive, wasting billions of pounds we should be spending on vital public services. It’s a pointless and damaging attempt to appease a faction in her own party when she now needs to reach out to overcome this crisis,” he said.
“If the prime minister is serious about finding a solution that can command support in parliament and bring our country together, she must listen to the majority of MPs, as well as members of her own cabinet, and take no-deal off the table.”
No formal approach
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Tánaiste Simon Coveney both roundly rejected suggestions of a bilateral treaty with Ireland to avoid a backstop, describing it as a “non-starter”. The Government said it had received no formal approach to discuss the proposal.
Mr Varadkar’s spokesman said the Taoiseach’s consistent view was the backstop was “not negotiable”.
The spokesman added that the dissident republican car bomb that exploded in Derry “should surely serve as a sober reminder of the past to which we do not want to return”.
Mr Coveney is due to brief the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, on the margins of a meeting of foreign affairs ministers in Brussels on Tuesday. A spokesman for the Tánaiste said they would discuss the political situation in Westminster and the Government’s planning for a no-deal, including the draft omnibus Bill, for such a scenario to be published later this week.
Mr Varadkar and Mr Coveney will also meet with opposition party leaders on Tuesday to update them on Brexit negotiations and brief them on the Bill.
“We expect a full explanation at last for what the law will do,” said a spokesman for Labour leader Brendan Howlin.