United Kingdom can not have 'unilateral' power in ending Brexit backstop

Rupa Haq MP Trevor Phillips Ayesha Hazarika Neema Begum and Sunder Katwala at the Queen Mary panel. Credit Jonathan Cole

But May told her cabinet that more time was needed to clear the final hurdle standing between her and a deal on the terms of Britain's withdrawal: the plan to ensure no hard border emerges between Northern Ireland and European Union member Ireland after Brexit.

The spokesman said: "This includes ensuring that if the backstop, if ever needed, is not permanent and there is a mechanism to ensure the United Kingdom couldn't be held in the arrangement indefinitely".

The DUP is opposed to a Northern Ireland-specific backstop, since, if it came into effect, it would require Northern Ireland to be more closely aligned with the EU's customs and trade rules than the rest of the UK.

The Irish border has proved the biggest obstacle to a deal, with both sides vowing not to reinstate a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland for fear of destabilzing the peace accord that ended decades of deadly sectarian violence.

Theresa May has emerged from a tense Cabinet meeting this morning insisting she will not agree to a Brexit deal "at any cost", despite the clock ticking on reaching a Withdrawal Agreement.

But Mrs May raised the prospect of a possible second meeting within a week, as she assured senior ministers that Cabinet would gather again at an "appropriate moment" before a deal.

Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said he was open to "creative solutions" for the border impasse, but "there can be no expiry date and there can be no unilateral exit clause".

"The prime minister said she was confident of reaching a deal". The agreement would "not be done at any cost", her official spokesman said.

"We are making good progress on the future relationship, and 95% of the withdrawal agreement has been settled".

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However, if these Brexiteers are not convinced that the customs union is only a temporary measure they would nearly certainly rebel.

Jeffrey Donaldson, an MP from Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), which props up May's government, said Dublin's refusal to budge could scupper a deal.

"We think EUR/GBP could be embarking on a sustainable bear trend – largely on the back of the deteriorating EUR outlook", ING's head of FX strategy Chris Turner said in a client note.

"Backstop means backstop. And a backstop can not have a time-limit".

Mr Matheson, speaking in Treasury questions, said: 'The Government's own figures demonstrate between a 2% and 8% hit on the broader economy on Brexit, so isn't it the case that there is no form of Brexit that won't have a massive impact on the public finances and therefore on public services?'

"Anything that weakens or softens the Irish Government's position as to the baseline protections that we need is something to be avoided", she said.

Cautious optimism that a deal may be in the offing has also been dampened by uncertainty over whether it would pass the British parliament, deeply split between eurosceptic and pro-EU lawmakers, even within May's Conservative Party.

Pet owners will have to buy a £55 health certificate every time they go to Europe on holiday if Britain crashes out of the European Union without a Brexit deal. This has turned into a mess that nobody voted for and it's only going to get worse.

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