Political news

Theresa May claims Tory critics of her Brexit plans want to 'betray' north

Prime minister Theresa May, pictured during her visit to Belleek on Thursday. Picture by Ronan McGrade, Pacemaker Press
Andrew Woodcock, Press Association Political Editor

THERESA May has lashed out at internal Conservative critics of her plans for the Irish border, accusing them of being ready to "betray" the people of Northern Ireland and the Republic.

And she sent a message to Brussels that the EU must change its negotiating position in response to the plans for a post-Brexit relationship which she drew up at Chequers.

The Prime Minister was speaking in Belfast as ministers from the remaining 27 EU states met in Brussels for a briefing from chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier on the plan set out in Mrs May's White Paper last week.

In a sign of growing concern in Dublin about the prospect of a hard Brexit, Irish Taioseach Leo Varadkar suggested Ireland could close its airspace to UK planes if Britain seeks to ban EU ships from fishing in its waters.

In her first major Brexit speech since the wave of ministerial resignations which followed her Chequers deal, the Prime Minister described the White Paper proposals as "a significant development of our position ... a coherent package".

And she said: "It is now for the EU to respond - not simply to fall back on to previous positions which have already been proven unworkable, but to evolve their position in kind.

"And, on that basis, I look forward to resuming constructive discussions."

Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg has said Brexit will not threaten peace. Picture by Jonathan Brady, Press Association

She sent a blunt message to supporters of a hard Brexit, like Jacob Rees-Mogg, who have argued that the UK should simply declare it will impose no checks at the Irish border after EU withdrawal and leave it to Brussels to decide whether to require the Republic to erect barriers.

"This issue arises because of a decision we have taken," she said. "We can't solve it on our own, but nor can we wash our hands of any responsibility for it, so we must work together to solve it."

The UK has a "duty" to ensure that its borders with neighbouring countries function smoothly, she said, adding that this was "a particular challenge" in Northern Ireland.

"The protection of the peace process and upholding our binding commitments in the Belfast Agreement are grave responsibilities," she said.

"Not to seek a solution would be to resume our career as an independent sovereign trading nation by betraying commitments to a part of our nation and to our nearest neighbour."

Boris Johnson quit as foreign secretary over Theresa May's Brexit plans. Picture by Victoria Jones, Press Association

And she took a swipe at former foreign secretary Boris Johnson's claim - repeated in his resignation speech to the Commons on Wednesday - that technological solutions could be used to avoid the need for infrastructure at the border.

"No technology solution to address these issues has been designed yet or implemented anywhere in the world, let alone in such a unique and highly sensitive context as the Northern Ireland border," she said.

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