May meets NI’s parties in scramble to find a way to break deadlock

May meets Northern Ireland’s parties in scramble to find a way to break the deadlock amid Brexiteer fury she WON’T try to remove the border backstop as Merkel pushes for a deal

  • Theresa May is on the second day of a visit to Northern Ireland to discuss Brexit 
  • She will meet five parties including the Ulster Unionists, SDLP and Sinn Fein 
  • Unlike the DUP, some parties including republicans back keeping the backstop 
  • May enraged Brexiteers yesterday by saying the backstop can only be changed
  • Elsewhere, Irish premier Leo Varadkar is due to be in Brussels for talks today  

Theresa May (pictured in Belfast last night) will meet all five of the major Northern Ireland political parties today as she scrambles to find a way through the Brexit deadlock

Theresa May will meet all five of the major Northern Ireland political parties today as she scrambles to find a way through the Brexit deadlock.

Unlike her DUP allies in Westminster, some other politicians in Ulster support the backstop – particularly the republican Sinn Fein.

But none of the others vote in Westminster meaning Mrs May – who is missing PMQs for the trip – has little hope of securing new support for her deal on the visit.

The Prime Minister enraged Brexiteers yesterday by admitting the backstop cannot be removed by this week’s push for a new deal, only re-written. 

Tory MP Nadine Dorries warned Mrs May today it was ‘remove the backstop or no deal’.  

As the countdown to exit day continues, Irish premier Leo Varadkar will be in Brussels today for his own talks on how to end the impasse.

Mrs May will travel to the EU capital tomorrow for talks with EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and EU Council President Donald Tusk.

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Sources in Berlin revealed to The Times today German Chancellor Angela Merkel is pushing Brussels to make a deal and is ‘very hopeful’ of progress if Britain can offer ‘concrete proposals’ on possible alternatives for the Irish border. 

Who is the PM meeting today?  

Mrs May will head to Stormont House to have bilateral meetings with Northern Ireland’s five biggest political parties:

  • The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP)
  • Sinn Féin
  • SDLP
  • Ulster Unionist Party (UUP)
  • Alliance Party

Speaking in Tokyo yesterday, Mrs Merkel insisted that ‘from a political point of view, there is still time’ to negotiate on the Brexit deal, particularly on ‘such a precise problem’ as the Irish border.

The new round of whirlwind diplomacy comes as it emerged today Cabinet ministers have considered an eight-week delay to exit day to ensure the laws for a deal are in place.

It would mean Brexit happens on May 24 instead of March 29. Rhere are several Bills – on issues including immigration and trade – which must pass, as well as hundreds of other pieces of minor legislation. 

Mrs May has insisted Brexit must happen on time and repeated her position at yesterday’s Cabinet meeting. 

Tory MP Nadine Dorries warned Mrs May today it was ‘remove the backstop or no deal’

The Prime Minister yesterday vowed to ensure there is no return to the ‘borders of the past’ as she delivered a speech in Belfast with negotiations at a critical stage.

She said the people of Northern Ireland and the Republic did not have to ‘rely’ on the EU to avoid a hard line being drawn between them.

‘The UK government will not let that happen,’ she said. ‘I will not let that happen.’

She infuriated Tory Eurosceptics by saying she is not proposing to scrap the backstop from the Brexit deal altogether – despite previously acknowledging it must be replaced with ‘alternative arrangements’.

Ms Dorries, a leading Brexiteer warned today: ‘A legally binding limit won’t pass in Parliament. The Prime Minister would suffer a further crushing defeat.

‘It’s open the Withdrawal Agreement, remove the backstop, or No Deal.’  

Mrs May also hinted there was little prospect of technological solutions proposed by Brexiteers being ready in the short term.

While saying she was ready to ‘look’ at ideas, she added: ‘These must be ones that can be made to work for the particular circumstances of Northern Ireland.’

Theresa May faced protesters on a visit to a community centre in Belfast last night (pictured) as she took part in a two day visit to Northern Ireland 

There was a heavy police presence outside Mrs May’s visit (pictured) which comes ahead of political meetings today 

After the speech a senior source on the Tory European Research Group (ERG) issued a thinly-disguised threat, saying: ‘Even if she doesn’t mean what she said, we still do.’

The Irish Government accused the Prime Minister of harbouring unrealistic expectations over the backstop.

The mechanism has polarised nationalists and unionists.

Many unionists believe the ‘insurance policy’ to preserve a frictionless frontier on the island of Ireland could threaten the integrity of the UK if Northern Ireland’s customs regulations varied from Great Britain after Brexit.

Nationalists and many business leaders fear major disruption to trade and a hard border threatening peace process gains if no deal is struck and the backstop is not triggered.

Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald (pictured last night in Belfast) has accused Mrs May of failing to offer any alternative to the backstop ahead of today’s talks 

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