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Boris Johnson suggests Theresa May planning Brexit fightback with 'freedom clause'

Theresa May is preparing for another showdown with the House of Commons tomorrow night.

Image: PA Wire/PA Images

BORIS JOHNSON HAS suggested that British Prime Minister Theresa May is planning to fight for a “freedom clause” from the EU over Brexit. 

Writing in The Telegraph, the ex-foreign secretary said he has heard “from the lips of very senior sources” that May is planning to go to Brussels and renegotiate the Northern Ireland backstop. 

Johnston said that winning a “freedom clause” would be “unadulterated good Brexit news” and that an exit mechanism will “defuse the booby trap” and give the UK a “way out” to negotiate a Canada-style trade deal with the EU. 

However, Tánaiste Simon Coveney yesterday said attempts by Brexit supporters to remove or set a time-limit on a controversial “backstop” clause on the Irish border would never be accepted by Brussels.

“Listen to what people are saying in Europe,” he told BBC television, saying May’s Brexit deal was “a balanced package that isn’t going to change”.

“The European Parliament will not ratify a withdrawal agreement that doesn’t have a backstop in it, it’s as simple as that,” he added.

Johnson, however, said: “That backstop is dead, rejected by the biggest ever parliamentary majority; and that is why I hope and pray that I am right about the intentions of Number 10. 

“If we mean it, if we really try, I have no doubt that the EU will give us the freedom clause we need. So now is the time to stiffen the sinews and summon up the blood and get on that trusty BAE 146 and go back to Brussels and get it.

And if the PM secures that change – a proper UK-sized perforation in the fabric of the backstop itself – I have no doubt that she will have the whole country full-throatedly behind her.

Brexit showdown

Both Johnson and Coveney were speaking ahead of another showdown between May and the House of Commons over Britain’s withdrawal from the EU, which is scheduled for 29 March.

MPs this month rejected the divorce agreement she struck with the bloc last year.

On Tuesday night, in a series of votes on parliamentary amendments, they will set out what they want her to do next.

Some MPs want to delay Brexit or adopt a whole new strategy, but others are demanding changes to May’s deal that they suggest could allow them to support it.

These focus on the backstop, an arrangement intended to keep open the border between the UK and Ireland by temporarily tying London to the EU’s trade rules.

May has already spent months trying to amend the backstop with no success, but has promised to return to Brussels if that is what her MPs want.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock denied Coveney’s comments meant she could not succeed, telling the same BBC programme that he was taking a “negotiating position”.

He said Dublin did not want Britain to leave the EU without a deal, which is the default position if MPs cannot reach agreement.

The European Commission this week conceded that without a deal, controls would be reimposed on the Irish border, which all sides have warned could undermine the Northern Irish peace process.

“The idea the EU and the Irish government would drive this process to a no-deal exit in order to try to achieve something which is intended to avoid no-deal Brexit, that is not going to happen,” Hancock said.

Coveney repeated that Dublin would be open to amending an accompanying political declaration on future trading ties, to emphasise that the backstop may never be used.

With reporting by © AFP 2019

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