Theresa May indicates MPs could decide if border backstop triggered as DUP again threaten to withdraw support

Prime Minister Theresa May indicated that MPs could choose between triggering the backstop or extending a transition period after the UK formally quits the EU
Press Association

PRIME Minister Theresa May has signalled that MPs could be given the power to decide whether the UK goes into the controversial Brexit backstop arrangement regarding the Irish border.

Mrs May indicated that parliament would choose between triggering the backstop or extending a transition period after formally quiting the EU.

The move is likely to be seen as a bid to bolster flagging support ahead of a crunch House of Commons vote on her EU withdrawal deal next Tuesday - a showdown the Tory leader made clear she would not postpone.

Mrs May told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "There will be a choice between, if we get to that point, a choice between going into the backstop and extending the transition period.

"Now, there are pros and cons of both sides of that.

"People have a concern of the backstop, that we could be in it indefinitely.

"But, in the backstop we have no financial obligations, we have no free movement, we have very light level playing field rules with the EU.

"In the implementation period, we still have to negotiate the terms, but there will be concerns about the fact that they would require, I'm sure they would require, some more money to be paid, for example.

"So there would be arguments on different sides."

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Asked if she would be happy for parliament to adjudicate on whether to go into the backstop or extend implementation, the PM said: "I think people are concerned about the role of the UK in making these decisions.

"And, the obvious, in terms of the UK, is for it to be parliament that makes these decisions."

The backstop, intended to prevent the return of a hard border in Ireland, is highly controversial as Brexiteer MPs claim it traps the UK into obeying rules set by Brussels without a say over them.

The government insists it aims to conclude a comprehensive trade deal with the EU before a backstop arrangement would be needed.

Read more: The Northern Ireland 'backstop' Q&A

Mrs May said that any deal with the EU, such as a Canada-style free trade agreement favoured by some Brexiteers, would also require a backstop arrangement.

Mrs May's comments came as the DUP said it will withdraw support for her government if the Prime Minister presses ahead with the Brexit deal with the EU.

Asked if the DUP was prepared to precipitate a general election, the party's Brexit spokesman Sammy Wilson told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "If it comes to the point where the government makes, shows, a determination to implement the Withdrawal Agreement with its damaging terms at present, or some future version of it, which is still equally damaging, we will not be supporting the government."

The DUP's Sammy Wilson said the party with withdraw support for the government if it moved to implement the withdrawal agreement. Picture by Michael McHugh/PA Wire

A European Court of Justice ruling on the reversibility of Article 50 will take place the day before MPs vote on Mrs May's Brexit deal, the court has announced.

It said in a tweet: "?Brexit: the ruling on the reversibility of ?Article50 TEU (case C-621/18 Wightman) will be delivered on 10th December at 9 CET."

It will come less than a week after a European Court of Justice Advocate General issued a legal opinion stating that the UK can unilaterally revoke its withdrawal from the EU.

Meanwhile, the EU's Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier has insisted that the agreement with Theresa May is the only deal on offer.

In a speech at the European Committee of the Regions, he said: "I must say once again, today, calmly and clearly: It is the only and the best possible agreement."

He added that Brexit was a "lose-lose" situation and the deal was an exercise in "damage limitation".

On the issue of the backstop, Mr Barnier said: "It is a legally operational form of insurance that will ensure that we never see the return of a hard border, that we have north-south co-operation on the island of Ireland and that we protect the integrity of the single market.

EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier there is no other deal available. Picture by Francisco Seco/AP

"The backstop is not there in order to be used, necessarily. We will do our utmost to avoid ever having to use it."

In a message to MPs, he said politicians in Westminster and the European Parliament had to "take on the responsibility" as they considered the deal.

"The British Parliament will be voting on this in the next few days. This has serious implications for the future of the country.

"We respect democratic and parliamentary debate within the UK, just as we do within the European Parliament."

Mr Barnier acknowledged that the path to a future trade deal with the UK would be "arduous", with ratification required by national and regional parliaments across the EU.

"We are not at the end of the road. It's a long and arduous path."


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