British PM Theresa May still seeking Irish 'backstop' changes

The United Kingdom is on course to leave the European Union on March 29 without a deal unless Prime Minister Theresa May can convince the bloc to amend the divorce deal she agreed to in November and then sell it to sceptical British lawmakers.
The United Kingdom is on course to leave the European Union on March 29 without a deal unless Prime Minister Theresa May can convince the bloc to amend the divorce deal she agreed to in November and then sell it to sceptical British lawmakers.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

She asks MPs for more time to secure legally binding revision to the most contentious parts

LONDON • Prime Minister Theresa May yesterday asked British lawmakers to give her more time for negotiations with the EU on changing a so-called "backstop" policy to prevent the return of a hard border between the British province of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland .

Mrs May said she had told EU leaders what Parliament wants "in order to unite behind a withdrawal agreement: namely, legally binding changes to the backstop".

"Having secured an agreement with the European Union for further talks, we now need some time to complete that process," she told Parliament's main elected House, the Commons.

"When we achieve the progress we need, we will bring forward another meaningful vote (to Parliament)," Mrs May added.

She promised to make another statement to Parliament on Feb 26, with a vote on what should happen next the following day, if the Brexit deal has still not been finalised.

The United Kingdom is on course to leave the EU on March 29 without a deal unless Mrs May can convince the bloc to amend the divorce deal she agreed to in November and then sell it to sceptical British lawmakers.

Mrs May said she wanted lawmakers from all parties to back the Brexit deal she is aiming to strike, citing the need to pass further legislation to prepare for Britain's exit from the European bloc.

CRUCIAL STAGE OF TALKS

The talks are at a crucial stage and we now all need to hold our nerve to get the changes this House requires and deliver Brexit on time.

BRITISH PM THERESA MAY, to Parliament's main elected House, the Commons, yesterday.

"The talks are at a crucial stage and we now all need to hold our nerve to get the changes this House requires and deliver Brexit on time," she said.

"By getting the changes we need to the backstop; by protecting and enhancing workers' rights and environmental protections, and by enhancing the role of Parliament in the next phase of negotiations, I believe we can reach a deal that this House can support."

Opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn accused Mrs May of "playing chicken with people's livelihoods" by running down the clock to get her Brexit deal through Parliament.

"She's playing for time and playing with people's jobs, our economic security and the future of our industries," Mr Corbyn told the House of Commons. "The Prime Minister is merely engaged in the pretence of working across Parliament to find solutions."

He urged action from ministers reported to be close to resigning to block a no-deal exit. "To stand by and do nothing would be a complete dereliction of duty," said Mr Corbyn.

British lawmakers overwhelmingly rejected Mrs May's withdrawal deal last month, with the major sticking point being the Irish backstop.

Critics say the policy could leave Britain subject to EU rules for years or even indefinitely after leaving the bloc. The EU says the backstop is vital to avoiding the return of border controls in Ireland and has refused to reopen the Brexit divorce deal, though Mrs May insists she can get legally binding changes to replace the most contentious parts of the backstop.

EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier said on Monday that the bloc would agree to tweak the political declaration on EU-UK ties after Brexit - which forms part of the package - to reflect a plan for a closer future relationship that could obviate the need for the contentious backstop.

"It's clear from our side that we are not going to reopen the withdrawal agreement, but we will continue our discussion in the coming days," Mr Barnier said.

Diplomats and officials said the UK now faces three main options: a no-deal exit, a last-minute deal or a delay to Brexit.

DPA, BLOOMBERG, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 13, 2019, with the headline 'PM May still seeking Irish 'backstop' changes'. Print Edition | Subscribe