Published: Thu, January 31, 2019
Health Care | By Cedric Leonard

Theresa May faces losing control over Brexit despite gamble on backstop

Theresa May faces losing control over Brexit despite gamble on backstop

She will open Tuesday's debate in the Commons by setting out the government's backing for an amendment tabled by senior Tory backbencher Graham Brady, which seeks to replace the Irish backstop with "alternative arrangements".

Theresa May faces losing control of Brexit to parliament on Tuesday in a series of crucial votes that will shape Britain's split from the European Union.

But if that proves impossible, Britain would remain aligned with the EU customs union after 2020, while Northern Ireland would further stay aligned to some single market rules, in order to keep the Irish border open.

The backstop is meant to avoid a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland, but so-called "Brexiteers" have pointed to the lack of a unilateral exit mechanism as evidence that the backstop could lead to Britain never leaving the bloc.

The vote was non-binding and the date for Brexit remains 29 March.

Opposition to the backstop by pro-Brexit politicians - who fear it will trap Britain in regulatory lockstep with the European Union - helped sink Mrs May's deal on January 15, when Parliament rejected it in a 432 to 202 vote.

Sir Graham Brady, the influential head of the Conservative Party's 1922 Committee, wants to overcome the main hurdle to May's deal by replacing the "Irish backstop".

At least two other amendments, with a much greater chance of passage, would encourage - or even legally compel - the British government to delay the entire Brexit process if no deal is agreed by set points before March 29.

And trade expert David Henig, director of the UK Trade Policy Project at the European Centre for International Political Economy, said it "stands no chance of being acceptable to the EU" as the interim free trade agreement involved would not help avoid border checks.

British Prime Minister Theresa May had urged lawmakers to support the move and "tell Brussels that the current nature of the backstop is the key reason Parliament can not support this deal".

The European Union has been adamant that there will be no renegotiation of the withdrawal agreement and that means no changes will be made to the backstop proposal; unless of course the United Kingdom shifts its red lines.

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"There are two weeks ahead of us, and if after that the government doesn't have a deal to bring before the house, there will be another vote", the spokesman said.

This proposal, tabled by Labour's Yvette Cooper and Tory Nick Boles, is one of the strongest-backed of a bevy of rival amendments tabled for debate.

"It will allow the prime minister to go back to Brussels with a clear message", he told reporters after the meeting.

Conservative leader May is seeking to salvage her agreement, and hopes to win over MPs in another future ballot, despite losing the last by 230 votes.

Ireland's European Affairs Minister, Helen McEntee, said that British politicians needed to show 'a bit of realism.' "There can be no change to the backstop".

At the weekend, Ireland's foreign minister, Simon Coveney, stated baldly the backstop simply "isn't going to change".

May said it was a chance to "tell Brussels that the current nature of the backstop is the key reason Parliament can not support this deal".

Lawmakers from different parties have submitted amendments that could be put to the vote on Tuesday and, if passed, would influence how the government proceeds with its Brexit plans.

Whether MPs vote for May to renegotiate the backstop or even delay Brexit, this does not solve the UK's fundamental problem: the lack of a clear consensus.

However, following both of these rejections, the MPs have also voted for Caroline Spelman's amendment.

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