Thursday, 9 Apr 2020

May refuses to say who would erect Border if no deal

British Prime Minister Theresa May has repeatedly refused to say who would erect a Border on the island of Ireland in the absence of the so-called ‘backstop’.

She repeatedly stonewalled MPs on the issue, quoting Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s statement that a hard Border cannot be avoided “just through goodwill, political statements and wishful thinking”.

The Taoiseach has insisted Ireland is not doing any logistical planning for the operation of a hard Border.

The fact that neither the UK or Irish Government will say who would force a Border to be erected is now being used as Brexiteers argue that the ‘backstop’ is unnecessary.

However, Mrs May said yesterday that a special acknowledgement of the situation in Northern Ireland is needed in order to uphold the UK’s commitments under the Good Friday Agreement.

She said suggestions that the backstop was being forced on her by either Dublin or Brussels were not accurate.

Mrs May appears to be making limited progress in her battle to win over enough House of Commons’ members to get approval for the Brexit deal.

But yesterday she pushed back against calls for a second referendum, insisting that a “people’s vote” could not take place before ‘Brexit Day’ on March 29.

The prime minister told the Commons Liaison Committee that seeking an extension to the Article 50 withdrawal process – to enable a referendum to be held – would mean the agreement would fall and they would have to go back to the negotiating table.

“Any second referendum that would be held, if that were the case, would not be able to be held by March 29 next year. You would have to extend Article 50,” she said.

“To extend Article 50, actually you are then in the business of renegotiating the deal.

“What is clear is that any extension to Article 50 – anything like that – reopens the negotiations, reopens the deal. At that point, frankly, the deal can go in any direction.

“We would simply find ourselves in a period of more uncertainty, more division in this country.”

That position was backed up by the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier, who said the deal on the table is the only one possible.

  • Read more: Philip Lane warns hard Brexit could have large impact on financial services firms here

Addressing a sparsely populated EU Parliament he said that given the “extreme complexity” of the issues that were discussed during the past 18 months “this deal is the only one and the best one possible”.

“Now is the time for ratification. It’s not a question of winners and losers because Brexit is a lose-lose. There is no added value,” Mr Barnier said.

“I am convinced we will be able to work together for a real and unprecedented partnership,” he said of Britain’s future relationship with the EU, talks on which will start after March.

During the EU parliamentary debate yesterday, Ukip’s Nigel Farage said Mrs May’s deal would be voted down in the British parliament as “the worst deal in history”.

Back in London, the shadow chancellor John McDonnell suggested a second referendum could be “inevitable” unless Mrs May goes back to the country in a general election.

The prime minister acknowledged that there was a series of “practical steps” which would have to follow if the government lost the vote, but refused to be drawn further.

“My focus is on the vote that will take place on December 11 here in this House,” she said.

“You want to look at all sorts of options and ideas. I think it is important members of parliament focus on the nature of this vote. This is an important point in our history.

“It is a vote on which we will be deciding whether we deliver on the decision of the British people.”

  • Read more: It’s the only deal possible, EU’s Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier tells Britain

Mrs May will get a boost today when her International Trade Secretary Liam Fox, a leading Brexiteer, will accuse her Tory opponents of not tackling the tough choices facing the UK.

He will say that while the deal hammered out with Brussels will not please everyone it provides a “firm and stable base” on which to leave the EU and start looking to global trade deals.

“Choices which many in parliament, on both sides of the House, have yet to face up to,” he is expected to say.

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