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Theresa May to visit Northern Ireland tomorrow

May will meet with businesses and local community groups.

Image: PA Wire/PA Images

UK PRIME MINISTER Theresa May will visit the Northern Ireland tomorrow to attend a meeting with local businesses and community groups. 

The full details of the trip are yet to be released but it is understood May will also deliver a speech on Brexit during her visit.

It has yet to be confirmed if she will visit the border or make a trip to the Republic of Ireland. 

The trip to the North comes as May’s government meet today 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 – will meet for the first time today after the House of Commons voted for May to seek alternative arrangements to the backstop. 

EU officials have insisted that the deal – rejected by British lawmakers – 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.

“If we stand together and speak with one voice, I believe we can find the right way forward,” she said.

Downing Street said it had established “an Alternative Arrangements Working Group” to mull the backstop issue starting today, and added that “there are a number of ideas on this, including a unilateral exit mechanism or a time limit”.

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.

‘Reassurance’

Speaking in Brussels today, Tánaiste Simon Coveney said he welcomes May’s visit to the North tomorrow, stating that the people of Northern Ireland need “reassurance” from the British government right now.

Touching on the issue of re-opening the withdrawal agreement, he said 18 months was sent negotiating the deal. “Of course we want to provide assurances and clarity to the UK to assist the ratification process on the UK side,” said Coveney, however he added that from the Irish perspective, some of the core issues, particularly around the backstop, there have already been a series of compromises around UK red lines.

When asked if May’s Alternative Arrangements Working Group is endeavouring on a pointless search, the Tánaiste said that within the Irish protocol in the withdrawal agreement, alternative arrangements or alternative solutions to the backstop are allowed.

However, the problem has always been in that none of those ideas around alternative arrangements have actually stood up to scrutiny, he said.

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

“We spent well over a year looking at different ways of providing the guarantee of no physical infrastructure on the island of Ireland, which protects an all-island economy, that reinforces a peace process, many, many hours I can tell you was involved in coming up with a legally credible and pragmatic solution to that problem and in that process we looked at lots of different alternative ideas and alternative arrangements and so on and I have yet to hear any new thinking that goes beyond what has already been tested and that is the issue here.”

“What Ireland is being asked to do from some in Westminster is essentially do away with an agreed solution between the UK government and the EU negotiators and to replace it with wishful thinking,” he said. 

I think that is a very unreasonable request to ask the Irish government to be flexible on. If there are alternative arrangements that can work, the current protocol, if people take the time to read it, takes account of that and it says very clearly that the backstop can be replaced with alternative arrangements as long as they work, 

He said remains very clear – the withdrawal agreement was agreed between all parties.

“We expect them to follow through on that commitment.” 

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