Theresa May has risked another bitter clash with anti-EU Tories by saying she is “not proposing” to replace the Irish backstop in her Brexit deal.
The prime minister appeared to go back on last week’s Commons vote – to replace the backstop “with alternative arrangements” – by saying she was only seeking “changes”.
Brexiteer Tories have already warned such a compromise would be unacceptable – ruling out either a unilateral withdrawal clause or an end date to the backstop.
Instead, they insist the prime minister must demand that Brussels scrap it altogether and replace it with new – unproven – technology, to avoid the return of checks at the Irish border.
The hardline European Research Group reacted immediately to the speech, in Belfast, saying: “Even if she doesn’t mean what she said, we still do.”
Until now, Ms May has insisted three options were being considered – a time limit, an exit mechanism, or ill-defined” alternative arrangements” to the backstop.
However, she faced a backlash in Northern Ireland, where most residents and businesses support the guarantee as a way of avoiding a no-deal Brexit.
Asked how she could convince the people of Northern Ireland to accept a Brexit deal which was stripped of the backstop, Mrs May said: “I’m not proposing to persuade people to accept a deal that doesn’t contain that insurance policy for the future.