- Theresa May has set out her alternative Brexit plan to the House of Commons.
- The prime minister made a statement to MPs after her deal with the EU was rejected by a record-breaking House of Commons majority last week.
- May will push ahead with a plan to once again demand concessions from the EU on the Northern Ireland backstop.
- The motion faces multiple amendments from MPs designed to allow Parliament to take control of the Brexit process.
- May also announced that the £65 admin fee for EU citizens applying to stay in the UK had been scrapped.
LONDON – Theresa May has revealed her alternative Brexit plan after Members of Parliament last week voted overwhelmingly to reject her deal with the European Union.
The prime minister said she had listened to the concerns of MPs and would now seek to again gain concessions from the EU on the controversial backstop policy for Northern Ireland.
“With regard to the backstop, despite the changes we have previously agreed, there remain two core issues: the fear that we could be trapped in it permanently; and concerns over its potential impact on our Union if Northern Ireland is treated differently from the rest of the UK,” May told MPs on Monday afternoon.
“So I will be talking further this week to colleagues… to consider how we might meet our obligations to the people of Northern Ireland and Ireland in a way that can command the greatest possible support in the House.”
The backstop is designed to avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland if talks fail before the end of the Brexit transition period. Under the current terms of the backstop, the UK will effectively stay in a customs union with the EU while Northern Ireland will remain tied to single market rules.
Many Conservative MPs fear that the backstop could leave the UK wedded to EU customs rules indefinitely, while the Democratic Unionist Party that props up the government believes it would create unacceptable border checks between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.
The prime minister is reportedly seeking a so-called sunset-clause on the backstop after which it would cease to have any effect.
However, the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier rejected this on Monday, telling RTE that the current deal agreed with the prime minister was “the best deal possible.”
Barnier said: “It’s now for the UK leaders to build this stable and political majority for a deal. We are waiting for the next steps, and are ready to work again on the political declaration.”
Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn accused May of a “sham” attempt to reach out to other parties on Brexit.
“The prime minister’s invitations to talks have been exposed as a PR sham,” Corbyn said.
“Every opposition party politician came out of those meetings with the same response. Contrary to what the prime minister has just said, there was no flexibility; there were no negotiations; nothing had changed.”
The prime minister said she would continue to meet with MPs to hear their concerns over Brexit and would be “more open” with parliament about the next stage of the Brexit process.
However, she used her statement on Monday to reject demands by opposition MPs to extend the Article 50 negotiating process or hold a second referendum on whether the UK should leave the EU.
“The opposition parties that have engaged so far – and some backbenchers – have expressed their support for a second referendum,” May said.
“I have set out many times my deep concerns about returning to the British people for a second referendum. Our duty is to implement the decision of the first one.”
May also warned that another referendum would damage public trust in politicians, telling MPs: “I also believe that there has not yet been enough recognition of the way that a second referendum could damage social cohesion by undermining faith in our democracy.”
A spokesman for May added that the prime minister believed that any attempt to hold another referendum would breach the “covenant of trust” between the government and voters.
He added: “There is a covenant of trust between the electorate and the government of the day. It’s the government’s duty to act on clearly expressed wishes of the electorate. Were that not to happen, she’s saying it wouldn’t be and shouldn’t be without consequence.”
May scraps £65 fee for EU citizens applying to stay in the UK
The prime minister set out her plan in a statement and motion to the House of Commons on Monday afternoon.
The plan, which has already been rejected multiple times by the EU and Ireland, would need to be backed in principle by MPs in a vote at the end of this month, before being negotiated with the EU and then voted on again by the UK Parliament next month.
May wants the EU to give the UK legally-binding guarantees that the backstop would be a temporary measure. Pro-Brexit MPs want this to come in the form a fixed end-date.
But MPs from across the House are poised to force May to think again about her whole approach, with multiple amendments planned to her motion, which are designed to take control of the process from the prime minister.
Among the amendments are plans to force the prime minister to extend the two-year Article 50 process that will take the UK out of the EU on March 29, and a push to hand control of the entire process to backbench MPs.
The amendments will be selected by the House of Commons speaker John Bercow and then put to a vote by MPs on January 29.
May has blamed Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn for the breakdown in the talks with opposition parties after he refused to meet with the prime minister until she rules out the possibility of a no-deal Brexit with the EU – the preferred option of some Conservative Brexiteers.
Demands by other opposition parties for a second referendum and Brexit to be delayed, were also rejected outright by the prime minister, sources in the opposition meetings told Business Insider.
In news that was welcomed by MPs across the Commons, May announced on Monday that the £65 admin fee for EU citizens applying to stay in the UK after Brexit had been scrapped.
EU citizens living in the UK who want to register for “Settled Status” were originally set to be charged a fee for doing so. However, the prime minister said on Monday that the fee had been binned, and all EU citizens who have already paid it would be fully refunded.
Ripping up the Good Friday Agreement?
Downing Street has reportedly considered an alternative plan to renegotiate the Good Friday Agreement in order to avoid the need for a backstop with the EU.
The GFA peace deal was agreed between the UK, Northern Irish parties and the Republic of Ireland in the 1990s after decades of bloody conflict in Northern Ireland.
Ripping up the Belfast Agreement would be incredibly controversial, take months, if not years, and require a series of referendums in order to ratify it. Downing Street sources deny any plans to rip up the Good Friday Agreement.
Prime Minister May categorically denied the story on Monday.
“All of us agree that as we leave the European Union, we must fully respect the Belfast Agreement and not allow the creation of a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland – nor indeed a border down the Irish Sea,” May said.
“And I want to be absolutely clear, in the light of media stories this morning, this Government will not reopen the Belfast Agreement. I have never even considered doing so – and neither would I.”