UK and EU say ‘backstop’ is an ‘uncomfortable necessity’
May fights for her career as House of Commons in turmoil over Brexit
Both the UK and EU find the Irish ‘backstop’ a “slightly uncomfortable necessity”, Prime Minister Theresa May‘s chief Brexit adviser has said.
The UK political system remains in turmoil over the Northern Ireland Border, with MPs now predicting Mrs May’s demise within days.
However, she has vowed to fight on past the House of Commons vote on her Brexit deal, even if it is defeated.
The UK’s attorney general faced questions in parliament yesterday about how to end the so-called backstop arrangement, which would keep the UK closely aligned with the EU customs union unless a new trade deal is struck.
Geoffrey Cox told MPs the Withdrawal Agreement on the table does not allow Britain to unilaterally exit the backstop.
“There is… no unilateral right for either party to terminate this arrangement,” Mr Cox said.
“This means that if no superseding agreement can be reached within the implementation period, the protocol would be activated and in international law would subsist even if negotiations had broken down.”
Earlier, Mrs May’s chief Brexit adviser Olly Robbins told the Exiting the European Union Committee that the fall-back plan was “not the future relationship that either the UK or the EU wants to have with one another”.
“It is an uncomfortable position for both sides and the reality is that there is not a withdrawal agreement without a backstop.
“That reflects also, as I’ve said to this committee before, ministers’ commitments to Northern Ireland and to avoid a hard Border on the island of Ireland, rather than being something imposed upon us.
“So, it is a necessity and a slightly uncomfortable necessity for both sides.”
Asked if the government had drafted a clause for the Withdrawal Agreement that would have allowed the UK to opt out of the backstop unilaterally, Mr Robbins said: “Ministers asked us to look at a whole range of options for how to bring the backstop to an end, and so we did.
“The prime minister and other ministers tested some of those out on European partners. But, what we went into the negotiation with in the end was a text that delivered the termination clause very much as it is laid out there.”
Mrs May faces days of debate on her deal ahead of a vote next Tuesday – but all the indications are she will not be able to secure the numbers necessary to win the day. She must then make some career-defining decisions if a no-deal scenario is to be avoided. Yesterday, she brushed aside questions about whether she will resign if the deal is rejected, saying she’s confident she will still have a job after the crucial vote.
“I will still have a job in two weeks’ time,” she predicted. “My job is making sure that we do what the public asked us to: We leave the EU but we do it in a way that is good for them.”
The Conservative prime minister has consistently refused to say what she plans to do if – as widely predicted – the British parliament rejects the deal her government reached with the EU.
“I’m focusing on… getting that vote and getting the vote over the line,” she said.
Mrs May’s opponents argue that the UK can renegotiate the deal for better terms.
But the British government and the EU insist that the agreement is the only one on the table.