London, UK Prime Minister Theresa May on Tuesday said that she will talk to the EU about reopening negotiations on the withdrawal agreement in an attempt to resolve the Northern Ireland backstop issue.
May was expected to have phone calls with key EU leaders throughout the day ahead of a series of House of Commons votes over the future direction of Brexit, the BBC reported. The EU had earlier ruled out making changes to the legal text agreed with the Prime Minister.
She will open Tuesday’s debate in the Commons by setting out the government’s backing for an amendment tabled by senior Tory backbencher Graham Brady, which seeks to replace the Irish backstop with “alternative arrangements”.
Downing Street had earlier said that reopening the withdrawal agreement was unacceptable to the EU and risked other governments trying to push for fresh concessions on other issues.
But May’s official spokesman said she told her Cabinet that “in order to win the support of the House of Commons, legal changes to the controversial Irish backstop will be required. That will mean reopening the withdrawal agreement”.
Senior Brexiteer rebels — who voted down her deal last month — indicated they would be willing to back it if she got legal changes to the backstop.
The Irish backstop, a measure created to ensure there is no return to a hard border between Northern Ireland (a UK territory) and the Republic of Ireland (an EU member state) if future talks between London and Brussels collapse, has proved a sticking point in May’s bid to pass her withdrawal agreement.
Critics say the backstop would keep the UK tied to EU rules indefinitely and curb its ability to strike trade deals. Conservative MPs have demanded changes to the backstop to make it clear that it could not last forever and Britain could terminate the arrangement on its own.
The Democratic Unionist Party, a Northern Irish outfit that props up May’s minority government in the Commons, has threatened to block her plan if triggering the backstop meant keeping Northern Ireland in regulatory alignment with Dublin, and thus the EU, but not the UK.
May’s spokesman said that she told ministers that the amendment “sets out in no uncertain terms our continued commitment to arrangements which avoid a hard border”, and “gives us scope for a new discussion with the EU about how best we achieve that”.
She was expected to tell MPs that the government hoped to bring back a deal to Parliament to secure the support of MPs in another “meaningful vote”, as soon as possible.
But if no deal has been reached by February 13, the spokesman said May would table a statement setting out what the government plans to do next — which MPs will be able to amend, giving them another opportunity to reject a no-deal Brexit.