May to vow during Northern Ireland visit to keep Border open
PM persisting in backstop alternative quest while seeking to restore Stormont
Iain Duncan Smith and Theresa Villiers arrive at the cabinet office in Westminster for a meeting of the Alternative Arrangements Working Group to examine the Malthouse compromise. Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA
Theresa May will on Tuesday promise to fulfil her pledge to ensure that the Irish Border remains open after Brexit while securing a withdrawal deal that wins a majority at Westminster.
The prime minister will make the commitment during a two-day visit to Northern Ireland during which she will meet political and business leaders.
“I know this is a concerning time for many people here in Northern Ireland. But we will find a way to deliver Brexit that honours our commitments to Northern Ireland that commands broad support across the community in Northern Ireland and that secures a majority in the Westminster parliament, which is the best way to deliver for the people of Northern Ireland,” she is expected to say.
In her speech on Tuesday afternoon, Mrs May will call for a renewed effort to restore the Assembly and Executive at Stormont, which have been suspended for more than two years.
“I hope we can also take steps to move towards the restoration of devolution so that politicians in Northern Ireland can get back to work on the issues that matter to the people they represent. For ultimately, the measure of this moment in Northern Ireland’s history must be more than whether we avoid a return to the challenges of the past,” she is expected to say.
Former first minister David Trimble said on Monday he was planning to take legal proceedings against the British government to remove the Northern Ireland protocol, including the backstop, from the withdrawal agreement. He believes the protocol is in breach of some provisions of the Belfast Agreement which he helped to negotiate in 1998.
Mrs May is seeking to reopen the Brexit deal she agreed with the EU last November after MPs voted last week to support it on condition the backstop is replaced with “alternative measures” to keep the Border open. Brexit secretary Stephen Barclay on Monday started at least three days of talks with Conservative MPs to consider technological and administrative alternatives to the backstop.
Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney said in Brussels that Ireland and the EU were willing to provide backstop “reassurances and clarity to the UK to assist the Brexit ratification process on the UK side”. But he insisted that alternatives to the backstop had been exhaustively examined and tested.
A ‘creative’ approach
Martin Selmayr, secretary general of the European Commission, rejected reports he had told British MPs the EU would consider legally binding assurances on the withdrawal agreement if it meant the deal would win a majority at Westminster.
German chancellor Angela Merkel has suggested a “creative” approach to Brexit talks could see outstanding questions resolved.
On a trip to Japan, Dr Merkel said there were “possibilities, no doubt” to maintain the integrity of the single market and avoid checks on the Irish Border.
On Dr Merkel’s comments, an Irish Government source said: “She is just saying what the European Commission and Irish Government have said all along.
“She herself said the scope for the way forward is in the political declaration, not the withdrawal agreement.”