Politics, World, Europe

UK: PM May fails to impress MPs in Brexit strategy

Backstop remains bone of contention for deal with EU

21.01.2019
UK: PM May fails to impress MPs in Brexit strategy

By Ahmet Gurhan Kartal

LONDON

The deadlock over Brexit continued on Monday as Prime Minister Theresa May failed to offer any concrete changes to her deal -- which was rejected by an overwhelming majority of MPs last week.

May said she has been listening to parliamentary groups and opposition party leaders and she would discuss new options with EU officials to break the deadlock on Brexit.

She, however, ruled out the extension of article 50, membership of customs union or a people’s vote.

Recognizing concerns about a no-deal Brexit from all sides of the parliament, May said ruling out a no-deal Brexit could only be possible by revoking article 50 but that would be against the result of the 2016 referendum.

May also ruled out a second referendum on Brexit, saying it would undermine social cohesion and British democracy.

“I do not believe there is majority for second referendum,” she said.

May rejected media reports suggesting she will reopen and alter the Good Friday agreement that ended violence in Northern Ireland in 1998.

She said she wants to find out what MPs are demanding on the backstop so she can take that demands back to the EU for discussion, adding that the government will waive the fee for EU citizens in their application to stay in the U.K.

Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn said May should not insist on her red lines, adding she is still in denial about the extent of her defeat last week.

Describing May’s cross-party talks as “sham”, Corbyn said Labour Party will also back amendments ruling out a no-deal Brexit and will consider the case for a people’s vote.

Also speaking about the government’s handling of Brexit, Ian Blackford, the Westminster leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP), said Scotland had voted to remain in the EU.

He said they would not let Scotland to be taken out of the EU and they will consider a second independence referendum.

Nigel Dodds, the Westminster leader of Northern Island's Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), asked May if she was serious about getting changes about the backstop issue through the House of Commons.

May responded that she wants to find the best way to resolve these issues that will command the support of MPs.

What is backstop?

The backstop is a clause in the rejected deal. It is an insurance policy to avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland after Brexit until a solution to retain a seamless border is found.

The original backstop proposed by the EU would keep Northern Ireland aligned with the bloc by keeping it in the customs union with full access to the European single market until a proper solution is reached for the only land border between the U.K. and the EU.

However, May negotiated for a UK-wide backstop until the border issue is resolved between the Northern Ireland and the rest of the U.K.

The deal included a transition (implementation) period until the end of 2020 with an option of extension until the end of 2022.

But the deal was rejected by British lawmakers in a 432-202 vote at the parliament last week after many MPs, including 118 Conservative ones, most of them expressing their objections to the backstop clause.

The future border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland has been a sticking point in Brexit negotiations since the U.K. has triggered article 50 -- a process used by a member country to leave the bloc -- in March 2017.

The EU has said it would not renegotiate the backstop clause.

The U.K., Ireland and EU officials have expressed so far that a return to a hard border in the region is unacceptable.

The U.K. is set to leave the EU end of March 2019.

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