LONDON: Prime Minister Theresa May will travel to Brussels on Thursday to tell European Union leaders they must accept legally binding changes to the Irish border arrangements of Britain’s divorce deal or face the prospect of a disorderly no-deal Brexit.
The United Kingdom is due to leave the EU in just 52 days, yet London and Brussels are arguing over whether the deal clinched in November can be changed, raising the possibility of a delay to Brexit, a last-minute deal or a no-deal exit.
Since British lawmakers voted down the withdrawal agreement last month, parliament has instructed May to replace its most contentious element – an insurance policy covering the possible future arrangements for the border between EU-member Ireland and the British province of Northern Ireland.
May will meet European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and then European Council President Donald Tusk in Brussels on Thursday.
“From a political point of view, there is still time,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel told a conference in Tokyo.[nL5N2001CG]
“That should be used, used by all sides. But for this it would be very important to know what exactly the British side envisages in terms of its relationship with the EU,” she said.
May, on a visit to Belfast on Tuesday, tried to reassure Northern Ireland that she can deliver an orderly Brexit that will ensure peace in a province riven by three decades of sectarian conflict until a 1998 accord.
The Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), which has propped up May’s government since she lost her parliamentary majority in a 2017 snap election, said it wanted to get a deal agreed but the border backstop had to be replaced.
“The current backstop, as I have said all along, is toxic to those of us living in Northern Ireland,” DUP leader Arlene Foster, who will meet May in Belfast on Wednesday, told BBC radio.
Foster refused to say whether the deal would have to be renegotiated or whether she would accept legally binding assurances.
“If the backstop is dealt with in the withdrawal agreement then, despite the fact we may have misgivings around other parts of the withdrawal agreement, we will support the prime minister because we do want Brexit to happen in an orderly and sustained fashion,” she said.
Britain, Ireland and the EU want to avoid physical checks on the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland that ceased with the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.
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