THERESA May is hoping MPs will give her more time to get legally-binding changes to the Irish backstop as she bids to get her controversial deal to leave the EU through Parliament.
Brussels, however, gave her a resounding ‘no’ the last time she tried to renegotiate over the backstop issue. Here’s what you need to know.
Was Theresa May a Brexiteer or Remainer?
May supported the UK remaining in the EU before the referendum – but was not a vocal supporter during the bitterly fought campaign.
She became PM in 2016 after David Cameron resigned over the poll’s result.
Her entire premiership has been devoted to ensuring Britain has a smooth departure from the EU.
She has always stated that “Brexit means Brexit”.
And she has ruled out there being a second referendum despite her Brexit deal being voted against in Parliament.
What has Theresa May said about Brexit?
May says her government hasn’t decided exactly how it will try to change the European Union divorce deal to address concerns about the Irish border.
Parliament voted on January 30 to replace a border measure in the agreement with unspecified “alternative arrangements.” Many U.K. lawmakers fear the “backstop” measure designed to ensure the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland remains free of customs checks will trap Britain in regulatory lockstep with the EU.
Asked in the House of Commons on Wednesday what alternatives Britain was proposing, May said “there are a number of proposals for how that could be done.” She said measures under consideration included a unilateral exit mechanism for Britain, a time limit to the backstop and “mutual recognition and trusted trader schemes.”
The EU insists the withdrawal deal can’t be renegotiated.
In her New Year message Theresa May said the Brexit deal she had negotiated delivers on the vote of the British people.
She said it gives us “control over our borders, our money and our laws.
“It is good for jobs, protects our security and works for our whole United Kingdom.”
She added: “The referendum in 2016 was divisive, but we all want the best for our country.
“2019 could be the year we put our differences aside and move forward together into a strong new relationship with our European neighbours and out into the world as a globally trading nation.”
However May’s withdrawal deal, agreed with the EU in November 2018, was rejected by MPs on January 15 by a staggering majority of 230 votes.
Beleaguered leader May limped on, narrowly surviving the vote of no confidence by 19 votes the following day.
On January 21, the PM unveiled her plan to break Britain’s Brexit deadlock.
But it emerged Plan B was still very much her Brexit deal with the EU — her original Plan A.
She conceded there would have to be modifications to it, as the disastrous vote proved “the Government’s approach had to change”.
The PM added: “We need to see where we can ensure the support of this house, and then take that forward to the European Union”.
Her declaration teed with up a Commons showdown on January 29 when an amendment to her plan — to seek an alternative to the Irish backstop — was voted through.
For this to happen there will need to be fresh negotiations with Brussels.
She has kept her proposed changes to the hated Irish backstop vague, though they are expected to involve asking for a legal time limit or unilateral exit mechanism.
The PM told MPs:
- She would ditch a £65 fee for EU citizens to pay to stay in Britain after Brexit in an olive branch to the EU
- The Northern Irish backstop is the key to getting a deal passed – and she will go to the EU to ask for more
- A second referendum would be terrible for democracy and would “damage social cohesion” by undermining faith in democracy
- She will carry on talking to MPs from across the House of Commons – and be more “flexible and open” in letting Parliament have their say
- But she refused to rule out extending Article 50 – saying only that she was working on a deal so we can leave in March as planned
Mrs May said she would be speaking to the DUP and other colleagues before the end of January, and will go back to Brussels to tell them what is needed to get the deal over the line.
“We will work to identify how we can ensure that our commitment to no hard border in Northern Ireland and Ireland can be delivered in a way that commands the support of this House, and the European Union,” she promised.
Pointedly, Mrs May also raised Brexiteers’ fears by refusing to rule out implementing a customs union if that is what Parliament demands.
On February 1 May and Corbyn both agreed the EU must bend on the Brexit backstop if the deal is going to get signed off by MPs.
The PM said she would go back to Brussels to demand more changes to the Northern Ireland agreement to “deliver the Brexit the British people voted for”.
May has been told to hold another election this summer once Brexit is over.
The PM’s top civil servant recommended that she call a snap vote in June if she succeeds in getting her agreement past in the next few weeks.
May and Corbyn have both agreed that the EU MUST bend on the Brexit backstop if the deal is ever going to get signed off by MPs.
The Prime Minister said today she will go back to Brussels to demand more changes to the Northern Ireland agreement to “deliver the Brexit the British people voted for”.
In a fresh call for national unity, she urged MPs on all sides of the debate to bury their differences and help deliver the best possible Brexit.
And in words that appeared to show a united front with the Labour boss, she said that even he agreed that the EU needed to budge.
She wrote in the Sunday Telegraph: “Although Jeremy Corbyn didn’t vote with us, he also believes the potential indefinite nature of the backstop is an issue that needs to be addressed with Brussels.
“That is exactly what I’m doing.”
And in a message to other Labour MPs to come out and back her, she added: “It’s up to all of us at Westminster to make it work.”
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How did Jeremy Corbyn respond?
Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn slammed Plan B saying “this really does feel like Groundhog Day”.
He called the cross-party meetings a “stunt” and insisted a “no deal” Brexit must be ruled out as an option.
May said that was an “impossible condition”.
Instead, May looks set to try to win over pro-Brexit Conservatives and her party’s Northern Irish ally, the Democratic Unionist Party.
Both groups say they won’t back the deal unless the border backstop is removed.
There were signs some Brexiteers could reluctantly back Mrs May’s deal amid concerns a cross-party grouping of MPs are plotting to impose a “softer” Brexit – or derail it altogether.
It is understood May wants to show the EU that MPs could back a deal without a backstop, in the hope of encouraging Brussels to soften its position.