On Tuesday, British Prime Minister Theresa May is scheduled to go to Northern Ireland. It is part of her attempts to gain support for her Brexit renegotiation strategy as the dispute regarding the Irish border backstop intensifies.
Theresa May has pledged to look for “alternative arrangements” to stop a hard border on the island of Ireland if a trade deal between the European Union and the United Kingdom is not yet ready when the post-Brexit transition period ends.
Following a speech she delivered this afternoon in which she is expected to accept it is a “concerning time” for those who are living in the region, PM May will meet with the political leaders of the region on Wednesday morning for further discussions.
In her speech in Belfast, May is anticipated to state: “I know this is a concerning time for many people here in Northern Ireland.”
She will add: “But we will find a way to deliver Brexit that honours our commitments to Northern Ireland that commands broad support across the community in Northern Ireland and that secures a majority in the Westminster Parliament, which is the best way to deliver for the people of Northern Ireland.”
The opposition to her original backstop plan has reached new heights with Lord Trimble, the former first minister of Northern Ireland, threatening to take the government to court if the proposal passes into law.
On Tuesday, the former leader of the Ulster Unionist Party – who won the Nobel Peace Prize for his part in putting an end to the Troubles – is expected to set out his reasons for believing that the plan violates the Good Friday Agreement.
However, the current focus of PM May is on securing changes to the backstop plan that will win the support of a majority of MPs.
Brussels has repeatedly ruled out the reopening of the withdrawal agreement to make adjustments to the backstop protocol, which was signed off by the European Union last December.
During a visit to Japan, Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, seemed to suggest that changes could be made. She stated: “To solve this riddle you have to be creative, you have to listen to each other.”
She added: “We can have these conversations so we can use the remaining time to perhaps remove the obstacles that have so far stood in the way and find an agreement if everybody is willing.”
She concluded: “But we need to hear from Great Britain, and that is the crucial point, we need to hear from Great Britain how they want to do it.”
Her comments came as a top official of the European Union ruled out giving further legal assurances over the temporary nature of the Ireland backstop after a meeting with a cross-party group of UK MPs.
The Secretary-General of the European Commission, Martin Selmayr, quickly moved to dash any hopes of progress in the talks after it was reported that the European Union would consider making the pledges.
Following the meeting of the members of the Brexit select committee of the parliament in Brussels, Selmayr said in a tweet: “On the EU side, nobody is considering [legally binding assurances on the withdrawal agreement].”
He continued: “Asked whether any assurance would help to get the withdrawal agreement through the Commons, the answers of MPs were…inconclusive.”
He added: “The meeting confirmed that the EU did will to start its no deal preparations in December 2017.”
Simon Coveney, the deputy leader of Ireland, welcomed the visit of PM May to Northern Ireland, however, he said that attempts to replace the backstop with other arrangements amounted to little more than “wishful thinking.”