May looks for ‘backstop’ clarity to help pass deal
Theresa May is likely to be offered an “exchange of letters” confirming the EU’s intention to conclude trade talks with the UK by 2021, as Brussels seeks to help the prime minister in the run-up to next week’s Commons vote on her deal.
The correspondence would flesh out language already included in the withdrawal agreement but it is hoped its clarity could persuade some MPs of the EU’s intention to avoid triggering the Irish backstop.
Should talks on a sufficiently comprehensive and deep future trade deal be agreed and ratified by the start of 2021, it is hoped there would be no need for the whole of the UK to fall into the customs union envisaged by the backstop – an “all-weather” solution for avoiding a hard border on the island of Ireland.
As MPs returned to Westminster this week with the crucial Commons vote looming, Downing Street insisted that new compromises could still be won from Europe that would ensure the safe passage of May’s plan.
May faces significant obstacles to get her withdrawal deal passed in by backbench and opposition MPS with proposals for alternative deals still being promoted on both sides of the House. The deputy leader of May’s Northern Irish allies, the DUP, calling the planned “backstop” arrangement over Northern Ireland “toxic”.
Meanwhile, thousands of Labour members have demanded their party oppose May’s Brexit deal and back a second referendum over EU membership. The call comes before a key party gathering that will be held amid warnings that some are already ending their membership over the issue.
The pressure emerges as the biggest Brexit poll conducted since the referendum suggests support for Labour would fall significantly should it back or allow its MPs to back a Brexit agreement.