Theresa May risks Tory fury after suggesting Irish backstop will remain in Brexit deal
Theresa May has risked a backlash from eurosceptic MPs after she appeared to rule out the possibility of scrapping the Irish backstop from her Brexit deal with the EU.
The Prime Minister told business leaders in Northern Ireland that the final Withdrawal Agreement must include an "insurance policy" guaranteeing no return to a hard border with Ireland.
Instead, she said there should be "changes made to the backstop" following fresh negotiations with the EU, which kick off on Thursday when Mrs May will hold talks with Jean-Cluade Juncker and Donald Tusk in Brussels.
Her remarks, in a speech in Belfast, appeared to be at odds with the amendment passed last week by the Commons calling for "alternative arrangements" to the backstop to be found.
Asked how she could convince people to sign up to a deal which didn't include a backstop, the Prime Minister said: "I am not proposing to persuade people to accept a deal that doesn’t contain that insurance policy for the future."
She added: “What Parliament has said is that there should be changes made to the backstop, and it is in that vein, and in that light that we are working with politicians across Westminster, and of course, across the House of Commons.
“But also will be working with others, with the Irish government and the EU to find a way to a maintain our commitments which we have set, very clearly, to no hard border, but to do it in a way which provides a Withdrawal Agreement and political declaration for the future which commands support across the House of Commons…”
A spokesperson for the European Research Group of Tory Brexiteers - which wants the backstop scrapped entirely - immediately fired back at the Prime Minister, saying: “Even if she doesn’t mean what she said, we still do."
Downing Street has confirmed that the Government is considering three possible options - the so-called "Malthouse Compromise" which would replace the backstop, putting an end date on the backstop, or creating a mechanism which allows the UK to leave the arrangement at a time of its choosing.
A spokesman for the Prime Minister later insisted that Mrs May's comments did not rule out the possibility of the backstop being removed from the Withdrawal Agreement.
He said: "We have been very clear there will be an insurance policy, we are absolutelty committed to there being no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland."
Mrs May also acknowledged in her speech that reopening the Withdrawal Agreement would create “real anxieties” on the island of Ireland because “it is here that the consequences of whatever is agreed will most be felt.”
She added: “I recognise too that the majority of voters in Northern Ireland voted to remain and that many will feel that once again decisions taken in Westminster are having a profound and in many cases unwanted impact in Northern Ireland and Ireland."