Brexiteers warn Theresa May to ditch Northern Ireland backstop plan or face Commons defeat
Eurosceptic MPs have warned Theresa May to dump her plans for avoiding a hard border in Ireland or face a humiliating Commons defeat on her Brexit blueprint.
The Prime Minister told MPs that the draft political declaration she agreed with the EU today would mean the controversial "backstop" may be replaced by technological systems removing the need for physical customs checks.
Under the backstop, the UK would remain in a customs arrangement with the EU until another way is found to maintain an open border between Ireland and Northern Ireland.
Mrs May told MPs: "The text we have agreed is explicit about the determination of both sides to avoid the backstop altogether by getting the future relationship in place on the 1st of January 2021.
"And in the unlikely event that we ever did need the backstop, to ensure it is quickly superseded either by the future relationship or alternative arrangements."
But a succession of Tory eurosceptics lined up to denounce the latest agreement and urged the Prime Minister to ditch the Northern Ireland backstop entirely from her broader withdrawal agreement with the EU.
Former Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith said the plan to avoid a hard border in Northern Ireland remained “toxic”, and warned that, despite Mrs May’s “effort and work”, the UK would still “fall into the Northern Ireland backstop” if it failed to strike a trade deal with the EU.
“I simply say to my Rt Hon Friend, therefore, I would hope that she would now consider that none of this is at all workable unless we get the Withdrawal Agreement now amended so that any arrangements we make strip out that backstop and leave us with that positive, open border that we talked about,” he said.
That message was echoed by former Northern Ireland Secretary Owen Paterson, who said keeping the backstop in the “legally binding” withdrawal agreement” risked the “horror of being in the customs union” as well as “the horror of Northern Ireland being split off under a different regime”.
Ex-Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, who stormed out of the Cabinet earlier this year in opposition to Mrs May’s plans, meanwhile said there was nothing in new declaration that would stop the EU having “a continuing veto over the unilateral power of the entire United Kingdom to do free trade deals or take back control of our laws”.
He urged the Prime Minister to “junk forthwith the backstop”.
Mrs May also faced fresh fury from the DUP, who this week abstained on crucial Budget votes despite a deal with the Prime Minister to support her fragile minority government.
DUP Chief Whip Geoffrey Donaldson warned her: “I would say to the Prime Minister that if she wants to have the support of my party for the withdrawal agreement then we need to see an end of the backstop and those alternative arrangements put in place.”
The backstop plan would see Northern Ireland stay aligned to some parts of the EU’s single market, with a UK-wide customs union with the EU set up to avoid imposing new checks at the Irish border.
It would only kick in if no alternatives can be thought up before December 2020 - but Brexiteers fear it risks leaving the UK bound to EU rules indefinitely with no say in how they are drawn up.
In a defiant message to her MPs, the under-fire Mrs May insisted that the British public wanted to see the Brexit process “settled”.
“They want a good deal that sets us on a course for a brighter future,” she said.
“And they want us to come together as a country and to move on to focus on the big issues at home, like our NHS.
“The deal that will enable us to do this is now within our grasp.
“In these crucial 72 hours ahead, I will do everything possible to deliver it for the British people.”
Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn meanwhile savaged the latest agreement, branding it “26 pages of waffle”.
He said: “This half-baked deal is a product of two years of botched negotiations in which the Prime Minister’s red lines have been torn up, Cabinet resignations have been racked up, and Chequers has been chucked.
“This is a vague menu of options - not a plan for the future and not capable of bringing our country together.”