The Guardian has today reported that Ireland has launched a last-minute effort to warn Theresa May off any attempt to unravel the backstop, two days before a crucial Commons debate that may decide the next move for the UK’s rudderless Brexit policy.
According to the report, Irish foreign minister and deputy leader, Simon Coveney, insisted the backstop – the mechanism to ensure there will be no hard border between the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland if Britain and the EU fail to strike a free trade deal – was “part of a balanced package that isn’t going to change”.
In a forceful interview, he insisted it was only part of the withdrawal agreement because of the UK’s red lines.
Ministers have not formally backed any of the anti-backstop amendments, which are incompatible with the deal that May agreed with UK leaders, but if one were to pass by a majority, she would be able to present the EU with a firm idea of what changes might get her deal through parliament – something that as yet remains unclear to Brussels.
MPs pushing the anti-backstop amendments will be competing against a rival bloc of parliamentarians hoping to get a majority for an amendment intended to prevent the government taking the UK out of the EU without a deal. Various versions of this are on the order paper, including some viewed with alarm by ministers because they cede control of the parliamentary timetable to backbenchers.
In an interview with BBC One’s The Andrew Marr Show, Coveney said he did not see the need for further compromise because “the backstop is already a compromise”. Although originally Northern Ireland-specific, it was made UK-wide at the request of May, he said.
“And the very need for the backstop in the first place was because of British red lines that they wanted to leave the customs union and single market,” he said.
"Everything changed in 2016': Poles in UK struggle with Brexit. So the Irish position is, look, we have already agreed to a series of compromises here, and that has resulted in what is proposed in the withdrawal agreement. Ireland has the same position as the European Union now, when we say that the backstop, as part of the withdrawal agreement, is part of a balanced package that isn’t going to change.”