Downing Street slaps down Liam Fox over Irish agreement plan to kill off Brexit backstop

Posted On: 
20th January 2019

Downing Street today slapped down Cabinet minister Liam Fox after he said Britain should seek an agreement with the Irish government to kill off the controversial Brexit backstop.

Liam Fox appeared on the Andrew Marr show this morning

A Number 10 source told PoliticsHome that proposals about a bilateral treaty to break the Brexit deadlock “is not something we recognise”.

The Irish government also appeared to reject the plan, after the Sunday Times reported that Mrs May could put the suggestion to parliament tomorrow.

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The paper said Mrs May would seek a separate treaty with Ireland from her EU Withdrawal Agreement that would ensure the Irish border remains open in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

Such a plan would mean the backstop, to keep the UK in a customs union with the bloc in the worst case scenario, could be dumped in an appeal to the DUP and Tory backbenchers who strongly oppose it.

International Trade Secretary Dr Fox told the Andrew Marr show that the Brexit “compromise” the Prime Minister was working on was “getting an agreement with Ireland as an alternative mechanism to ensure we don’t get friction across the Northern Ireland/Ireland border”.

Confronted with comments by the Irish government that appeared to reject the plan, he said: “I’m not asking them to change their position.

“We actually agree that no matter what there should be an agreement that ensures that there is no hard border between the UK and Ireland.

“The question is can we achieve what the Irish government wants and what we want by a different mechanism.”

But a Number 10 source told PoliticsHome the “bilateral treaty idea is not something we recognise from our end”.

Irish deputy PM Simon Coveney had said on Twitter: “I can reassure you the Irish Govt’s commitment to the entire [Withdrawal Agreement] is absolute - including the backstop to ensure, no matter what, an open border between Ire + NI and the are protected.”

And according to Sky News, an Irish government source said there was "not a hope" of a bilateral treaty to remove the need for the backstop.

Elsewhere, Labour Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer admitted that any Brexit deal would have to include a backstop - despite Jeremy Corbyn saying the opposite in December.