In a Brexit plan B speech described by one Irish political leader as an indication that “the British state is in chaos,” British Prime Minister Theresa May talked about changes to the Irish backstop, the “insurance” to preserve a soft border if Britain exits the EU without a deal.
She told the House of Commons that changes to the Northern Ireland backstop hold the key to securing a majority at Westminster for a Brexit deal.
She declined to rule out seeking changes to the text of the withdrawal agreement with the European Union and has dropped her assertion that any such agreement will include a backstop.
May acknowledged on Monday that consultations with MPs from all parties showed that the backstop was the main cause of concern.
She is preparing Brexit plan B after her November deal with the EU was overwhelmingly defeated by 432 votes to 202 in Westminster last week. Her government survived a confidence vote the next day.
Before last week’s defeat, May insisted any withdrawal agreement would require a backstop and that “no backstop simply means no deal, now and for the foreseeable future.”
But on Monday she said there were “a number of options.” Her official spokesman declined to say she continued to believe that any withdrawal agreement would include a backstop.
Downing Street declined to comment on a proposal from Polish foreign minister Jacek Czaputowicz that the backstop could have a time limit of five years. Czaputowicz claimed London and Dublin were “playing chicken” over the border and risked a “head-on collision” in which Ireland stood to “lose the most.”
It was the first time an EU minister had broken ranks on the issue.
But senior Polish sources told The Irish Times that the minister was not speaking for the government in Warsaw.
And Ireland and Germany dismissed the proposal from Poland’s Czaputowicz.
Tanáiste Simon Coveney knocked back the proposal. He said, “Putting a time limit on an insurance mechanism – which is what the backstop is – effectively means it is not a backstop at all.”
Germany’s foreign minister Heiko Maas said he “completely” backed Coveney.
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood, who said the British state was in chaos, added that May was desperately clinging to the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) for support to hang on to power. He insisted that the pro-Brexit DUP does not represent the interests of the North which voted to remain in the EU.
The British Parliament is set to debate and vote on May’s plan next Tuesday.