Theresa May to tell EU she needs changes to backstop if her deal is to get through

Chancellor warns Brexiteers about voting against deal

Theresa May will on Friday tell the European Union that it must agree to changes she is seeking to the Northern Ireland backstop if her Brexit deal is to win a majority at Westminster next Tuesday.

The prime minister will tell “an audience of workers” in the Lincolnshire coastal town of Grimsby that her government remains determined to win legally binding changes to the backstop ahead of the vote.

“Just as MPs will face a big choice next week, the EU has to make a choice too. We are both participants in this process. It is in the European interest for the UK to leave with a deal. We are working with them but the decisions that the European Union makes over the next few days will have a big impact on the outcome of the vote,” she will say.

British attorney general Geoffrey Cox and Brexit secretary Stephen Barclay are due to return to Brussels for talks that are expected to continue through the weekend. But hopes of a breakthrough have dimmed after the EU rejected Mr Cox's latest proposals as "insane" and Whitehall sources condemned EU "intransigence".


Labour's shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer said Mrs May appeared to be getting ready to admit defeat in Grimsby on Friday.

“It’s becoming increasingly clear that Theresa May will not be able to deliver the changes she promised to her failed Brexit deal. This speech looks set to be an admission of failure. After two years of negotiation, the Government is simply incapable of delivering a Brexit deal that protects jobs, the economy and people’s livelihoods,” he said.

Concrete proposals

In the House of Commons on Thursday, Mr Cox rejected claims by some EU officials that he had failed to present clear, concrete proposals to chief negotiator Michel Barnier.

“We are discussing detailed, coherent, careful proposals, and we are discussing text with the European Union. I am surprised to hear the comments that have emerged over the last 48 hours that the proposals are not clear; they are as clear as day, and we are continuing to discuss them,” he said.

MPs in January voted for an amendment demanding that the backstop should be replaced with alternative measures to prevent a hard Border. The EU has rejected that demand and ruled out a time limit or a unilateral withdrawal mechanism for the backstop.

Mr Cox is seeking an arbitration mechanism that would allow Britain to replace the backstop with a slimmed-down suite of measures to keep the Border open if it showed it had made reasonable efforts to find alternatives to the backstop.

Seek an extension

If MPs reject the Brexit deal next Tuesday, they will vote on Wednesday on whether they want to leave the EU without a deal and on Thursday on whether the prime minister should seek an extension to the article 50 negotiating period.

Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond on Thursday warned Conservative Brexiteers that they should consider the consequences before voting against the deal.

“If the prime minister’s deal does not get approved on Tuesday then it is likely that the House of Commons will vote to extend the article 50 procedure to not leave the EU without a deal, and where we go thereafter is highly uncertain,” he told the BBC.

“For those people who are passionate about ensuring that we leave the EU on time, it surely must be something that they need to think very carefully about now, because they run the risk of us moving away from their preferred course of action if we don’t get this deal through on Tuesday.”

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton is China Correspondent of The Irish Times