British Prime Minister Theresa May
By Anthony Neeson
British Prime Minister Theresa May has told one of her party’s leading Brexiteers that she is not confident of victory if there was a border poll in Northern Ireland.
The Times newspaper reported that during a meeting on Monday Mrs. May and hardline Brexiteeer Jacob Rees-Mogg clashed over the impact of rival plans on the border.
One witness said the prime minister was “sending a tough signal” to hardline anti-EU Conservative MPs that she was not prepared to jeopardize the Union.
Around 150 MPs attended the meeting where the plans for the border were outlined. Sources told The Times that Mrs. May and Rees-Mogg clashed over plans for the border in Ireland – one of the most contentious issues in the Brexit negotiations.
According to reports, Rees-Mogg suggested the UK should keep the border open. However, Mrs. May said that the European Union could impose infrastructure on the border to protect the single market.
Rees-Mogg responded that he was confident Northern Ireland would remain in the UK after a border poll. May is reported to have responded: “I would not be as confident as you. That’s not a risk I’m prepared to take. We cannot be confident on the politics of that situations, on how it plays out.”
According to one Conservative MP: “She got him on facts. She was absolutely firm and passionate about the Irish position. I got a sense she realizes what really matters.”
Today, it was being reported that the British government is set to throw its diplomatic weight behind a third option for solving the conundrum of the Irish border post-Brexit.
The online Journal.ie reported that Prime Minister May faces a cabinet that is in open revolt against plans for a so-called “backstop” border solution – one which would see the UK in full customs alignment with the EU in order to maintain an open border between Northern Ireland and the Republic.
RTÉ, according to the story, was reporting that the UK has come up with an unexpected third solution to the impasse – by taking the infamous paragraph 49 (that which gave rise to the idea of a backstop in the first place) of last December’s draft Brexit agreement literally.
At present, the Journal.ie story continued, May is caught between the rock of hardcore Brexiteers in her own party who don’t wish for Northern Ireland to be given special status in negotiations, and the hard place of the EU itself, which is unlikely to grant exemptions that the UK would find desirable in order to get Brexit over the line with an actual deal in place.
Paragraph 49 states that, in the absence of any other deal to avoid a hard border (hence the backstop nature of things), the UK would “maintain full alignment” with the EU on trade in the spirit of supporting “north-south cooperation.”
By taking that paragraph literally and thus aligning the entirety of the UK with the EU for an undetermined period of time, the British government hopes to, temporarily at least, remove the controversy surrounding the backstop deal.
RTÉ also reported sources stating that such a deal would be acceptable to both the UK and the EU, though with strict conditions.
Meanwhile, May has announced plans to publish a Brexit white paper, setting out her priorities for Britain’s future relationship with the EU, ahead of next month’s crucial Brussels summit on the Brexit situation.