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Theresa May to give Brexit speech in Northern Ireland today

Tánaiste Simon Coveney has said no alternatives to the backstop have stood up to scrutiny.

Image: PA Wire/PA Images

UK PRIME MINISTER Theresa May will visit Northern Ireland today to give a speech on Brexit.

May is set to reaffirm the UK’s commitment that there will be no hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic post-Brexit.

With less than two months until Britain is due to leave the EU on 29 March, concerns are growing over the risk of a no-deal Brexit.

During her visit to the North, May will also meet with local businesses and community groups.

The trip to the North comes as May’s government met yesterday to discuss alternative arrangements to the Irish backstop with a working group including Eurosceptic MPs, as three days of talks begin today.

‘Alternative arrangements’

The Alternative Arrangements Working Group – with Leave and Remain MPs – met for the first time yesterday after the House of Commons voted for May to seek alternative arrangements to the backstop. 

EU officials have insisted that the deal – which has been rejected by Westminster – is not open for renegotiation.

But May wrote in the Sunday Telegraph that she would be “battling for Britain and Northern Ireland” in her efforts to get rid of the agreement’s unpopular “backstop” provision.

The so-called backstop is intended to ensure there is no return to a hard border with Ireland, but Brexit supporters fear it will keep Britain tied to the EU’s customs rules.

MPs voted last week to send May back to Brussels to renegotiate the clause, suggesting that her deal would then be able to pass after it was roundly rejected in parliament last month.

Tánaiste Simon Coveney said the withdrawal agreement does allow for alternatives to the backstop – but only if they work.

He said the problem has always been that none of the other ideas around alternative arrangements for the border have actually “stood up to scrutiny”, he said.

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“We certainly haven’t seen any that have,” said Coveney.

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