Prime Minister Theresa May has said she sent an unequivocal message to the EU that her government could only support a deal with legally binding changes to the Irish backstop.
Addressing the House of Commons, she called on MPs to “hold their nerve” and come together behind an EU withdrawal deal which will deliver Brexit on time on March 29.
Referring to her visit to Northern Ireland last week she said many people in the region are concerned about the “uncertainty surrounding Brexit”.
“For many people in Northern Ireland, what looms large is the fear that the seamless border will be disrupted,” she said.
“We must not allow that to happen and we shall not allow that to happen.”
DUP Deputy Leader Nigel Dodds MP said the most important market for Northern Ireland is the rest of the United Kingdom therefore “we must avoid any new barrier between NI and GB”.
“ I don’t want any new barriers either but equally Mrs May must remember the importance of stopping any new borders being erected between Northern Ireland the rest of the United Kingdom,” said Mr Dodds.
“Northern Ireland trades more with Great Britain than with the Republic of Ireland, rest of the EU and the rest of the world combined”.
The MP for North Belfast claimed Irish government “have been incredibly vocal” about the need for the backstop and “protective” of the draft withdrawal agreement.
“Yet, it is their attachment to this flawed draft deal which could lead to no deal being in place by the time the UK exits the EU,” said Mr Dodds.
“Ultimately, it is not necessary to erect any new barriers either north-south or east-west. We can reach a better way forward but it will require greater flexibility in Dublin and Brussels.”
Mrs May said that a planned Commons debate on February 14 will be on an amendable motion reaffirming the House’s decision on January 29 that it supported the Government’s efforts to find an alternative for the backstop and recognising that talks are ongoing.
Mrs May pledged to return to Parliament on February 26, if no deal has been secured before that time, to report back on progress and trigger a further MPs’ vote the following day.
“We now all need to hold our nerve to get the changes this House requires and deliver Brexit on time,” Mrs May told the Commons.
“By getting the changes we need to the backstop; by protecting and enhancing workers’ rights and environmental protections; and by enhancing the role of Parliament in the next phase of negotiations I believe we can reach a deal that this House can support.
“We can deliver for the people and the communities that voted for change two-and-a-half years ago – and whose voices for too long have not been heard.
“We can honour the result of the referendum.
“And we can set this country on course for the bright future that every part of this United Kingdom deserves.
“That is this Government’s mission. We shall not stint in our efforts to fulfil it.”
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn accused the PM of “running down the clock” in the hope that MPs will be “blackmailed” by the fear of a no-deal Brexit into supporting “a deeply flawed deal”.
“This is an irresponsible act,” said Mr Corbyn. “She is playing for time and playing with people’s jobs, our economic security and the future of our industry.”
Mr Corbyn accused Mrs May of refusing to listen to his alternative deal, involving permanent customs union membership, a close alignment with the single market and matching EU workplace and environmental protections.
“I urge all members across this House to think about the damage the Prime Minister’s strategy is doing – the threat to industry and skilled jobs in communities across Britain,” he said.
“Now is not the time to stand idly by, now is the time to stand up and do the right thing: to rule out no deal and back Labour’s alternative plan.”
Belfast Telegraph Digital