Latest: Backstop does not honour Theresa May's manifesto, says Sammy Wilson

Latest: Backstop does not honour Theresa May's manifesto, says Sammy Wilson

Update 2.10pm: Talks aimed at finding a way through on Brexit will take place on Thursday between the British Prime Minister and the European Commission President.

The meeting between Theresa May and Jean Claude Juncker in Brussels is aimed at breaking the current impasse after British MPs voted against the withdrawal agreement.

Mrs May is due to give a speech in Belfast this afternoon to offer assurances to people in the North that whatever deal is agreed will ensure there is no hard border.

The DUP's Sammy Wilson has told the BBC the backstop has to go.

Mr Wilson said that Mrs May has no alternative but "to do what she has promised and that is to go, have this agreement reopened and have the backstop removed".

Mr Wilson added: "The backstop is really designed to keep the United Kingdon as a whole in the Customs Union and the Single Market.

"That does not honour either her own manifesto or the outcome of the referendum."

Theresa May to take bid to reopen Brexit deal to Brussels

Update 12pm: Theresa May to take bid to reopen Brexit deal to Brussels

Theresa May is to travel to Brussels on Thursday for talks with European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker, as she seeks changes to the Brexit deal which was rejected by MPs last month.

The British Prime Minister is expected to press the case for the Withdrawal Agreement to be reopened to replace the controversial backstop with alternative arrangements for avoiding a hard border in Ireland after Brexit.

Latest: Backstop does not honour Theresa May's manifesto, says Sammy Wilson

It is her first formal meeting with senior EU officials since the deal which she reached with Mr Juncker in November went down to overwhelming defeat in the House of Commons and since MPs voted for the removal of the backstop.

Today, Mrs May will make a high-profile speech in Northern Ireland, where she will insist that she can secure a Commons majority for a Brexit deal that “commands broad support” in the province.

She will say that it is a “concerning time” but “we will find a way to deliver Brexit” that honours commitments to keep the border open.

The Withdrawal Agreement struck between Theresa May and Jean-Claude Juncker was defeated in the House of Commons last month
The Withdrawal Agreement struck between Theresa May and Jean-Claude Juncker was defeated in the House of Commons last month

Tomorrow Mrs May will hold talks with Northern Ireland’s political leaders including the DUP’s Arlene Foster, who has promised to tell the Prime Minister the proposed border backstop “drives a coach and horses through the Belfast Agreement’s principle of consent” and would effectively create a new border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.

Ms Foster has told the BBC she could support a deal if the backstop is removed, and criticised the EU's approach.

"We have heard a lot about their understanding of the Belfast Agreement, that they don't want a hard border on the island of Ireland but they're quite content, apparently, to build a hard border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom, thereby interferring with the constitutional position of the United Kingdom," she said.

"That is wrong as well and they need to recognise that."

Meanwhile, former first minister Lord Trimble confirmed he is considering a legal challenge to the backstop over concerns it breaches the Good Friday Agreement.

Lord Trimble told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We are exploring this possibility and we are concerned at the way in which the Withdrawal Agreement that our Prime Minister agreed actually turns the Belfast Agreement on its head and does serious damage to it.”

Mrs May’s visit to Brussels was announced by European Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas at a press conference in the Belgian capital (European Commission Audiovisual Services/PA)
Mrs May’s visit to Brussels was announced by European Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas at a press conference in the Belgian capital (European Commission Audiovisual Services/PA)

Announcing Mrs May’s planned visit to Brussels, European Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas said: “As you know, what we have is a procedure involving a number of votes which have taken place in the UK Parliament

“On that basis, the Prime Minister will come along to spell out to us her ideas for what happens next.

“President Juncker has been in constant contact with her and will look forward to seeing her… to pursue these discussions.

“But we have to repeat what you are aware of, that is that the EU’s position, the Commission’s position, is clear that we are awaiting once again to see what the Prime Minister has to tell us.”

- Press Association

Earlier: Theresa May promises Brexit deal that honours commitments to Northern Ireland

Update 6.52am: Theresa May will insist that she can secure a Commons majority for a Brexit deal that "commands broad support" in Northern Ireland as efforts continue to find an alternative to the controversial backstop.

The British Prime Minister will use a speech in Northern Ireland today to acknowledge that it is a "concerning time" but "we will find a way to deliver Brexit" that honours commitments including avoiding a hard border with Ireland.

Mrs May will hold talks with Northern Ireland's political leaders including the DUP's Arlene Foster, who has promised to tell the British Prime Minister the proposed border backstop "drives a coach and horses through the Belfast Agreement's principle of consent" and would effectively create a new border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.

Latest: Backstop does not honour Theresa May's manifesto, says Sammy Wilson

Meanwhile in Westminster, the working group bringing together senior Eurosceptic and former Remain-supporting Tories will continue efforts to agree alternatives to the backstop along the lines of the Malthouse Compromise.

Talks involving Conservatives including Brexiteers Iain Duncan Smith, Theresa Villiers, Steve Baker and Owen Paterson along with former Remainers Nicky Morgan and Damian Green will continue in Whitehall, chaired by Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay.

The first meeting on Monday was described as "detailed and constructive" by the Brexit department.

But Brussels has restated its opposition to any attempt to reopen the Withdrawal Agreement, insisting the backstop was the "only operational solution" to the border question.

In her speech, Mrs May will say: "I know this is a concerning time for many people here in Northern Ireland.

"But we will find a way to deliver Brexit that honours our commitments to Northern Ireland."

The backstop is effectively an insurance arrangement required by the EU to ensure the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic remains open if no wider deal is agreed on future UK/EU trade.

It would see the UK enter into a temporary customs union with the EU if no trade deal is sealed by the end of a transition period after Brexit, which lasts until December 2020 and could be extended to the end of 2022.

Northern Ireland would also abide by EU single market rules on goods, to avoid any need for regulatory checks of products crossing the border.

Latest: Backstop does not honour Theresa May's manifesto, says Sammy Wilson

But critics fear the arrangements could lead to the UK being trapped indefinitely in a customs union, scuppering future trade deals with markets around the world.

And the DUP strongly rejects any measure which could lead to divergence between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK, effectively creating a regulatory border in the Irish Sea.

MPs voted last week to say they would only back Mrs May's Withdrawal Agreement if the backstop was replaced by "alternative arrangements".

In her speech, Mrs May will say she will find a solution "that commands broad support across the community in Northern Ireland" and "secures a majority in the Westminster Parliament, which is the best way to deliver for the people of Northern Ireland".

And she will call for "steps to move towards the restoration of devolution" so that Northern Ireland's politicians "can get back to work on the issues that matter to the people they represent".

Mrs May will say: "The measure of this moment in Northern Ireland's history must be more than whether we avoid a return to the challenges of the past.

It must be how, together, we move forwards to shape the opportunities of the future.

Senior European Union figures have strongly rejected calls for the Withdrawal Agreement to be rewritten to remove the backstop.

Brussels' chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier said the deal agreed by Mrs May and the leaders of the 27 other EU members "cannot be reopened".

He said the EU was "ready to work on alternative solutions during transition", restating Brussels' position that the backstop had to remain in place unless and until a replacement could be agreed.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the EU was ready to listen to proposals to solve the border "riddle", but needs to hear from Britain how it thinks it can be done.

Tánaiste Simon Coveney said alternatives to the backstop were "wishful thinking".

He said: "The Irish protocol in the Withdrawal Agreement already allows for alternative arrangements or alternative solutions to the backstop and if they're there they can replace the backstop.

The problem is that none of those ideas around alternative arrangements stand up to scrutiny, we have certainly not seen any that have.

PA

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