May warns Brexiteers they could jeopardise UK’s departure from EU

British prime minister rejects calls to renegotiate draft withdrawal agreement

Theresa May has rejected calls to renegotiate the draft EU-UK withdrawal agreement, telling MPs that voting against her Brexit deal could prevent Britain from leaving the European Union next March.

The British prime minister said the “meaningful vote” on the deal that will come to the House of Commons next month will present MPs with a simple choice. “If we look at the alternative to that deal with the European Union, we see that it will either be more uncertainty and more division, or it could risk no Brexit at all,” she said.

Mrs May was answering Prime Minister's Questions before travelling to Brussels on Wednesday afternoon to meet European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker. EU leaders are due to meet next Sunday to sign off on the withdrawal agreement and a political declaration on the future relationship between Britain and the EU.

The political declaration is expected to include language on Northern Ireland and the Border that will reflect Mrs May's promise to explore technological solutions as an alternative to the backstop. The withdrawal agreement allows for "alternative arrangements" to ensure that the Border remains open, as did last December's EU-UK joint report.


The prime minister said that, if the backstop came into operation, the British government could agree to keep the entire UK aligned with EU regulations rather than allowing Northern Ireland to diverge from Great Britain.

"If we were in the situation where the backstop had to be in place for a matter of months, for example, it would be right for the United Kingdom to give the commitment that we would not be looking to diverge from regulations during that period and that we would ensure that we kept that free access for the goods from Northern Ireland coming into Great Britain, as we have committed in the withdrawal agreement—in the text that is set out—and as we had committed previously. That will of course be a decision for us, here," she said.

DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds asked the prime minister if she was personally responsible for excluding from the withdrawal agreement a reference in the joint report to a role for Stormont in approving any future regulatory divergence for Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK.

“The issue of what the processes in the United Kingdom would be when it comes to looking at the regulations is a matter for the United Kingdom to determine; it is for us to determine both our parliamentary decisions on that and the Stormont lock that was expressed in the December joint report. As the right honourable gentleman will also know, the lock in the December joint report referred to a decision being taken by the Northern Ireland Executive and the Assembly, which sadly are not in place today,” she said.

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton is China Correspondent of The Irish Times