Northern Ireland news

Theresa May accused of 'placating hard liners' as Brussels talks fail to reach agreement over backstop changes

Prime Minister Theresa May. Picture by Liam McBurney/PA Wire.
Paul Ainsworth

Theresa May has been accused of having "no coherent strategy" after her latest visit to Brussels failed to secure renegotiations on her withdrawal agreement.

The British Prime Minister met with President of the European Commission Jean Claude Junker and European Council President Donald Tusk yesterday in a bid to break the Brexit impasse.

Demands for a reneotiation to the withdrawal agreement which Ms May failed to get backing for in the House of Commons were rejected by Mr Junker, yet the PM described the talks as "robust but constructive".

Speaking afterwards she insisted "legally binding changes" to the controvertial Irish backstop must be reached in order for the deal to get parliamentary approval in Westminster.

Meanwhile, Mr Junker described the withdrawal agreement as a "carefully balanced compromise" between the EU and the UK, and insisted discussions on it would not reopen.

Read More: Theresa May told us there will be a backstop, says Guy Verhofstadt

However, Brussels and Downing Street said in a joint statement afterwards that new discussions could take place on how fast both sides would seek to complete talks on a future deal after the UK leaves the EU.

The lack of a breakthrough yesterday prompted criticism of Ms May by Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald, who said: "The British Prime Minister has no coherent strategy to avoid a no deal Brexit. Prime Minister May’s clear priority is to appease and placate the DUP and hard-Brexiteers who are driving towards a catastrophic no deal crash.

"It is welcome that the EU Commission President has again reiterated the position that the withdrawal agreement and backstop are not up for renegotiation.

"The backstop is an insurance policy. It is the bare minimum required to prevent a hard British border in Ireland. It is supported by the majority of citizens, businesses and other key sectors of our society and people. Any attempt to scrap the backstop must not be entertained."

Ms McDonald added that under the terms of the Belfast Agreement a no-deal Brexit would precipitate a border poll.

Meanwhile, DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds laid the blame for the impasse at the door of Brussels, and urged EU negotiators to be "realistic" as he described the backstop as "unacceptable".

"We want to see a deal but we need people to be in deal-making mode," the North Belfast MP said, before referring to Donald Tusk's comments in which he said there would be a "special place in hell" for "those who promoted Brexit without even a sketch of a plan of how to carry it out safely".

Mr Dodds said: "We need to see genuine diplomatic language rather than the offensive rhetoric of recent days. Both Simon Coveney and Michel Barnier have recognised there are ways to avoid a hard border even in a 'no deal' scenario. Therefore, those suggesting there are no alternatives are fooling no one but themselves."


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