Sturgeon takes Brexit plea to US
● Prime Minister to stress Brexit will not lead to hard border ● Meeting scheduled with DUP leader Arlene Foster today
Nicola Sturgeon urged the UK government to ask the EU to delay the planned date for Brexit in her speech last night at Georgetown University in Washington DC. She also reiterated her call for a second referendum on the EU.
The UK government “will find a way to deliver Brexit that honours our commitments” to the peace process, Theresa May will say in a speech in Northern Ireland.
The Prime Minister will meet political leaders and businesses today to seek consensus and in a bid to reassure the people of Northern Ireland that Brexit will not see the return of a hard border.
Mrs May has staked her Brexit deal on convincing the EU to reopen the agreement between London and Brussels to replace the insurance policy to prevent a hard border, known as the backstop.
However, her appeals have so far been rejected despite the Prime Minister setting a deadline of Valentine’s Day to present the Commons with a renegotiated deal.
“I know this is a concerning time for many people here in Northern Ireland,” the Prime Minister is expected to say.
“But we will find a way to deliver Brexit that honours our commitments to northern Ireland, that commands broad support across the community in Northern Ireland and that secures a majority in the Westminster parliament, which is the best way to deliver for the people of Northern Ireland.
“As we do so, I hope we can also take steps to move towards the restoration of devolution – so that politicians in Northern Ireland can get back to work on the issues that matter to the people they represent.”
The Democratic Unionist Party confirmed it would hold Brexit talks with Mrs May in Belfast. Party leader Arlene Foster said she would tell the Prime Minister the proposed border backstop “drives a coach and horses through the Belfast [Good Friday] Agreement’s principle of consent” and would effectively create a new border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.
Mrs Foster said: “Parliament has spoken. A majority has rejected the current backstop.
“The European Union must now accept the need for the withdrawal agreement to be reopened. The toxic backstop must be dealt with.”
She added: “It is important that the scaremongering about barbed wire and checkpoints is exposed as nonsense. Border communities should not have genuine fears exploited with such tall tales.”
Sinn Fein president Mary Lou Mcdonald and deputy leader Michelle O’neill will also meet Mrs May in Belfast. “The majority of political parties in the north continue to oppose Brexit and want to protect the Good Friday Agreement and prevent the return of a hard border,” Ms O’neill said following a meeting with Labour’s shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer. “It is on that basis that the majority of political parties support the backstop.” Sir Keir said Labour accepted it was “impossible to see a way forward without a backstop”.
Senior Tories from both wings of the party met in Whitehall yesterday for talks aimed at finding a solution to the Irish border issue following last week’s Commons vote calling for “alternative arrangements” to replace the backstop.
Downing Street has indicated potential solutions could revolve around a time limit or unilateral break clause on the backstop or new technologies to make it unnecessary.
The alternative arrangements working group, made up of senior Leave and Remain-leaning Tories, held its first talks in Whitehall with Brexit secretary Stephen Barclay. Meanwhile, former Northern Ireland first minister Lord Trimble has threatened to take the government to court over the backstop.
Lord Trimble said he and others were planning to initiate judicial review proceedings over an alleged breach of the Good Friday Agreement.
The former leader of the Ulster Unionist Party said the proceedings would demand the removal of the protocol on Northern Ireland from Mrs May’s withdrawal agreement.