Theresa May in bid to woo DUP and Tory rebels with last-ditch plea to EU on Irish backstop

Posted On: 
20th January 2019

Theresa May will call on the EU to make major concessions on the Brexit withdrawal agreement in a bid to persuade Tory rebels and the DUP to back her deal.

Theresa May held a conference call with her Cabinet.
Credit: 
PA Images

In a move which kills off calls for a cross-party consensus to break the Brexit deadlock, the Prime Minister told her Cabinet that she wanted to focus on winning fresh concessions from Brussels on the Irish backstop.

Mrs May will set out her plan in a parliamentary motion and statement to MPs on Monday. It will then be voted on in the Commons on 29 January.

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She outlined her decision, which followed days of talks with opposition party leaders and her own MPs, in a conference call with her Cabinet on Sunday afternoon.

One minister told PoliticsHome that the Prime Minister had effectively chosen a "one more heave" strategy in an effort to win the backing of Conservative eurosceptics and the DUP after her Brexit deal was defeated by 230 votes in the Commons last week.

Another Cabinet source said: "The plan remains to remove the backstop and get the DUP and her own party onside."

Mrs May's decision has angered some senior ministers, who believe she should try winning over Labour MPs by adopting a softer Brexit through a permanent customs union with the EU.

However, that is bitterly opposed by Brexiteers in the Cabinet, who say it would prevent the UK from striking its own trade deals with non-EU countries.

The Prime Minister's decision to woo Tory Brexiteers and the DUP angered some of her own MPs who have called on her to seek closer co-operation with the EU.

Former minister Nick Boles tweeted: "Absurd to draw conclusions about cross party cooperation after a few perfunctory discussions. It takes time, and good will, and a genuine willingness not just to listen but to understand what other people are saying. No sign of any of that from the PM."

Downing Street has denied seeking a bilateral agreement with the Irish government to ensure the border between the Republic and Northern Ireland remains open even if the UK leaves the EU without a deal. Such a plan would mean the backstop could be dumped.

International Trade Secretary Liam Fox suggested the move could be a solution to the Brexit impasse.

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

Irish deputy prime minister Simon Coveney has also rejected the idea, tweeting: "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.”