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The UK asks Ireland to compromise for Brexit plan B

Theresa May under fire after 1998 Irish peace agreement put in play

epa07306700 A handout video-grabbed still image from a video made available by UK parliament's parliamentary recording unit shows Prime Minister Theresa May addressing the MPs at the parliament 21 January 2019, London, United Kingdom. May addressed the MPs on her plans regarding Brexit after she suffered a defeat last week when MPs rejected her plans. EPA/PARLIAMENTARY RECORDING UNIT HANDOUT MANDATORY CREDIT: PARLIAMENTARY RECORDING UNIT HANDOUT EDITORIAL USE ONLY/NO SALES
epa07306700 A handout video-grabbed still image from a video made available by UK parliament's parliamentary recording unit shows Prime Minister Theresa May addressing the MPs at the parliament 21 January 2019, London, United Kingdom. May addressed the MPs on her plans regarding Brexit after she suffered a defeat last week when MPs rejected her plans. EPA/PARLIAMENTARY RECORDING UNIT HANDOUT MANDATORY CREDIT: PARLIAMENTARY RECORDING UNIT HANDOUT EDITORIAL USE ONLY/NO SALES

British prime minister Theresa May demanded more flexibility from the Irish government over safeguards designed to keep the border between the two states open to facilitate the UK's exit from the EU in March.

After suffering a crushing 432-202 vote defeat in Parliament last week on her proposed withdrawal agreement, Mrs May was required to report back on her efforts to seal a plan B.

Speaking to the House of Commons, she condemned a car bomb attack in Derry on Saturday night, an event that provided a reminder of the darkest days of the three decades of troubles.

She distanced herself from headlines suggesting a renegotiation of the 1998 treaty, known both as the Belfast Agreement and the Good Friday Agreement, but said further work was needed on the backstop on the Irish border contained in the withdrawal agreement.

"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," she said.

Despite assurances, Dublin remained nervous over Mrs May's hopes to secure concessions on the border issue.

Simon Coveney, the deputy Irish prime minister, welcomed the confirmation that London would not seek to reopen the deal.

"The Good Friday Agreement is a hugely important foundation for the peace process and I don't think we should be talking about changing the Good Friday Agreement in an attempt to solve a political problem," he said.

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Mr Coveney dismissed suggestions by the Polish foreign minister that the backstop in the Brexit withdrawal deal could have a five-year time limit, saying this does not reflect the overall EU position.

Jacek Czaputowicz broke ranks with the EU leadership by suggesting the problem could be solved by setting a five-year time limit on the backstop.

Looking to other elements of the impasse, prime minister announced a new more collaborative approach to involve other politicians when framing its negotiating mandate for post-Brexit trade talks.

Britain's political impasse over Brexit is fueling concerns that the country may crash out of the EU on March 29 with no agreement in place to cushion the shock. That could see tariffs imposed on goods moving between Britain and the EU, sparking logjams at ports and shortages of essential supplies.

Labour Party Brexit spokesman Keir Starmer warned a no-deal Brexit would be "catastrophic," predicting it was "inevitable" Britain will have to ask the EU to extend the two-year countdown to exit.

Several groups of lawmakers are trying to use parliamentary rules and amendments to May's plan to block the possibility of Britain leaving the EU without a deal.

One of those legislators, Labour's Yvette Cooper, said May was shirking her responsibility to the country by refusing to take "no deal" off the table.

"I think she knows that she should rule out 'no deal' in the national interest because it would be so damaging," Mrs Cooper said. "She's refusing to do so, and I think she's hoping that Parliament will do this for her. That is not leadership."

Updated: January 22, 2019 10:27 AM

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