London – British Prime Minister Theresa May told parliament on Wednesday that she expects the European Union to give “further clarification” on a controversial “backstop” arrangement to maintain an open Irish border after Brexit.
May seeks assurances from the EU
May urged lawmakers in the Commons, parliament’s main elected house, to back the deal she has negotiated for Britain to leave the European Union on March 29, ahead of the resumption of a parliamentary debate and a vote on the deal next week.
She told lawmakers that she had had contact with EU leaders in the month since she postponed the crucial vote on the deal, after admitting that she had faced a heavy defeat.
“These discussions have shown that further clarification over the backstop is possible, and those talks will continue over the next few days,” May said.
May has said she wants assurances from the EU that the last-resort backstop arrangement, which could impose slightly different trade rules on Northern Ireland from the rest of the United Kingdom, cannot become permanent.
She has promised the 650-seat parliament a “meaningful vote” on her deal, but many pro-EU and pro-Brexit politicians among the 315 lawmakers from her Conservative party have vowed to vote against it.
Opposition Labour leader Corbyn said Labour, which has 257 members of parliament, will also oppose it.
Corbyn accused May on Wednesday of “wasting time” by delaying the vote on her Brexit deal and providing only “window dressing” to help sell it.
The Financial Times reported that May’s aides are attempting to persuade EU leaders to give written assurances before a second vote if, as expected, she loses the first one due to take place next Tuesday.
May promises Northern Ireland a strong role
In a bid to assuage pro-Brexit critics, May’s government published a policy paper on Brexit and Northern Ireland on Wednesday, promising “a package of measures to give Northern Ireland a strong voice and role in the backstop process.”
May’s deputy, David Lidington, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme earlier that the proposals “make clear the continuing place of Northern Ireland within the UK internal market” and would give the territory’s devolved assembly a veto over related legislation.
But Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), whose 10 lawmakers prop up May’s minority government in the British parliament, rejected the proposals as “cosmetic and meaningless.”
“We reject the backstop and have previously, and consistently, indicated we will not support an internationally legally binding withdrawal agreement that contains its provisions,” Nigel Dodds, the DUP’s leader in parliament, said in a statement.
Northern Ireland will leave the EU with the rest of the United Kingdom, while the Republic of Ireland will remain in the bloc.