Theresa May to visit Northern Ireland for Brexit speech

The Withdrawal Agreement had been voted down in the House of Commons last month over the backstop, which could permanently lock Northern Ireland in regulatory alignment with the European Union should London and Brussels not agree a deal on their future relationship by the end of the transition period in December 2020.

Downing Street today confirmed she will meet EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker this Thursday, when she will seek to persuade him to change the backstop arrangement.

A young boy writes on a mock wall erected across the border between Ireland and the United Kingdom as the Border Communities against Brexit group hold an anti-Brexit protest in Louth, Ireland, January 26, 2019.

"We can still use the time to perhaps reach an agreement if everyone shows good will", Merkel said.

The row comes as the prime minister sets up a new committee of Conservative MPs created to work on "alternative arrangements" to the backstop.

May's government is now urgently looking into what changes might satisfy her MPs, who fear the backstop would keep Britain indefinitely tied to European Union trade rules, with even closer alignment for Northern Ireland.

The trip, which will also take in talks with local businesses, comes as she prepares to return to Brussels to demand the reopening of the EU Withdrawal Agreement.

Labour MP Virendra Sharma, a supporter of the pro-EU Best for Britain campaign, said: "Surely this is peak Chris Grayling, only this time he's gone worldwide".

However, CBI said these were under threat in the event of a an "accidental" no-deal Brexit, which it warned was becoming "more likely".

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"When I return to Brussels I will be battling for Britain and Northern Ireland, I will be armed with a fresh mandate, new ideas and a renewed determination to agree a pragmatic solution". It has so far refused to put a legally-binding time limit on it.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood, who was third in to see Mrs May, said she needed to understand there was no alternative to the backstop.

Speaking as the committee visited Brussels for private talks with European Union officials, Mr Benn said the UK Government and European Union had already put a great deal of effort into exploring a technological solution, only to conclude that: "It's not going to work".

Theresa May has been told Northern Ireland power-sharing must be restored or direct rule imposed the day after Brexit - and if parties are against restoring the Stormont institutions they should be excluded.

But her meeting with Arlene Foster, the DUP leader, will be the most closely scrutinised given the Prime Minister.

The UK government has been busy at work dealing with the congestion that is expected to mount up in Calais as a result of extra customs checks, bringing in three companies to lay on additional freight crossings to ease the pressure on Dover.

Hayward, who has done extensive research on the border and its communities, also pointed out that the Northern Ireland protocol of the withdrawal agreement already contains "means by which the protocol can be ended or phased out".

May, whose minority administration in Westminster is propped up by 10 MPs from Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party, will pledge during her visit to the province to "find a way" to keep the border open.

  • Darren Santiago