May declares unspecified progress

Theresa May announces something
© iStock/Robert Ingelhart

UK Prime Minister Theresa May has announced progress has been made on Brexit negotiations.

Speaking to a chorus of jeers from the House of Commons this afternoon, May said: “there has been a great deal of inaccurate speculation”. She stated progress has been made on the status of Northern Ireland and emphasised the need for a backstop agreement.

Reminding the House of the terms of the UK-EU customs agreement, May insisted the backstop would be a temporary agreement and that a no-deal Brexit would not be ideal for the UK or the EU. She did not specify what progress had been made on any aspect of the negotiations.

Opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn compared May’s statement to the popular 1993 film Groundhog Day and called for the prime minister to put her country above her party, adding: “if this government cannot reach a good deal for the people of this country, then it will have to make way for those who can.”

Tensions between UK and EU negotiators have been high over a failure to reach an accord regarding Northern Ireland: May wanted to maintain a “backstop” for Northern Ireland which would see the whole of the UK remain in the EU customs union for a transition period until after 2020. Meanwhile the EU promoted a “backstop to the backstop” in the event of insufficient preparation by the UK, which would see Northern Ireland remain part of the customs union and single market, in order to retain cross-border cooperation between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland and adhere to the Good Friday Agreement.

Sources on the EU side allege talks on the Northern Irish backstop were stalled for months at the request of May and British negotiators because of the issue’s political sensitivity. Concerns have been raised by EU representatives about the UK’s lack of wider preparation for reaching a Brexit deal.

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, addressing the RSA thinktank in London this morning, called for an extension to the Article 50 transition process beyond December 2020, saying: “more time will be inevitably be needed to negotiate the future relationship.” The Scottish government has released a white paper also calling for an extension.

Andrea Leadsom, Leader of the House of Commons, has convened a meeting of pro-Leave ministers this evening to discuss May and Brexit Minister Dominic Raab’s failure to reach an agreement with EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier.

Shadow Brexit minister Sir Keir Starmer told the BBC that Parliament should reject the dichotomy between a bad Brexit deal negotiated by May and a no-deal Brexit, saying: “We have built in a mechanism saying ‘we are not going off a cliff just because you have brought back a bad deal’. And it is not really a fair proposition to say to parliament ‘you’ve got a vote but your vote is either my deal or something much worse’ – that is hardly a meaningful vote.”

Mary Lou McDonald, leader of Sinn Fein, has said she will speak to Theresa May to demand a referendum on the status of the Irish border if the UK proceeds with a no-deal Brexit.

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