Withdrawal agreement will include ‘backstop’, says May

UK says EU proposals on Brexit unacceptable for not reflecting December accord on Brexit

Britain’s shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer: “Legal certainty is now needed.” Photograph: Darren Staples

Britain’s shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer: “Legal certainty is now needed.” Photograph: Darren Staples


Theresa May has told MPs that a “backstop” arrangement to avoid a hard border in Ireland will be part of Britain’s withdrawal agreement with the European Union. But she said the EU’s current proposals remained unacceptable because they did not fully reflect an agreement on the Border reached last December.

“I have explained that the specific European Commission proposals for that backstop were unacceptable because they were not in line with the Belfast Agreement and threatened the break-up of the UK’s internal market. And as such they were not a fair reflection of the Joint Report [of December] commission and we are committed to working intensively to resolve those which remain outstanding. So I welcome that we are beginning a dedicated set of talks today with the European Commission – and where appropriate the Irish Government – so that we can work together to agree the best way to fulfil the commitments we have made,” she said.

‘Bemusement’ expressed

The DUP’s leader at Westminster, Nigel Dodds, expressed “bemusement there’s so much concentration on the so-called backstop” for Northern Ireland and accused pro-Europeans of using the issue of the Border to “shape their version of Brexit or thwart it altogether” and inventing problems where there were none.

Earlier, Labour’s shadow Brexit secretary, Keir Starmer, said the government had failed to advance a credible means of keeping its promise to prevent the return of a hard border. Instead, it had ruled out what he described as the serious and workable proposal of negotiating a comprehensive customs union with the EU.

“While a customs union on its own will not solve the Border question, it is a necessary precondition for no hard border. This lack of clarity and realism from the government has held back the negotiations at every stage and increased uncertainty for all communities in Northern Ireland,” he said. 

Physical infrastructure

“Legal certainty is now needed. That is why – working with others – Labour will ensure an amendment is introduced to the EU Withdrawal Bill that would prevent checks, controls or physical infrastructure of any kind at the Border. This would put in place a legal commitment preventing a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic. It will also specify there can be no drop in North-South co-operation across the full range of political, economic, security or agricultural areas.”

Sir Keir said Labour would also introduce an amendment to ensure that, if parliament rejects the deal Ms May negotiates, she would not be able to interpret the vote as endorsing leaving the EU without a deal. Ms May told MPs the government would oppose any such amendment.

A group of TDs and Senators from the EU Affairs Committee and the Seanad Brexit Committee are in London this week for meetings with British MPs and ministers. On Tuesday, they will meet Brexit secretary David Davis and members of the House of Commons Northern Ireland and EU scrutiny committees.