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Theresa May contemplates scrapping Irish backstop to appease Brexiteers



Theresa May is examining a last-minute plan to scrap the Irish backstop in a bid to win over mutinous Conservative Brexiteers and bring the DUP back onside.

The prime minister told her cabinet that she was exploring “technological” solutions to maintain a soft border in Ireland in place of her backstop plan as she looked to appease her Brexiteers ahead of a critical vote in the Commons on her deal next month.

The revival of “alternative arrangements” to keep the border open came after senior Brexiteers met with the prime minister in Number 10 on Monday to present their own plan.

Theresa May speaks at the Confederation of British Industry's (CBI) annual conference in London
Mrs May has faced increased pressure as several MPs called for a vote of no confidence

Sky News has learned that the prime minister and Trade Secretary Liam Fox discussed alternatives to the Irish backstop with leading Brexiteers Iain Duncan Smith and Owen Patterson, with a view to trying to work them into last-minute negotiations with European leaders ahead of the crunch summit on Sunday.

The prime minister’s spokesperson confirmed on Tuesday that these alternative arrangements had been formally put back on to the table as cabinet ministers discussed “the potential for alternative arrangements to avoid a hard border” in Ireland.

The decision to put alternatives to the Irish backstop bought the prime minister some breathing room with Brexiteers.

NEWRY, NORTHERN IRELAND - FEBRUARY 02: A bus crossing along the border between Northern and southern Ireland passes a sign campaigning against a so called hard Brexit, on February 2, 2017 in Newry, Northern Ireland.


What does the deal mean for Ireland?

Two of those who had submitted letters of no confidence told Sky News that the pledges made by the prime minister in the meeting had convinced others to hold fire.

Brexiteers are now watching to see if something concrete is inserted into the withdrawal agreement or the final political declaration on the future relationship between the UK and the EU.

“Some people think she’s leading us up the garden path, but it was a constructive meeting,” said one person familiar with the discussions. “We’re now waiting to see what she can do by Sunday.”

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May still haunted by letter of no confidence

A technological solution to the Irish border dilemma was first proposed by former Brexit secretary David Davis last summer, only to be rejected by Number 10.

Mr Davis, speaking after launching a report restating the case for technological solutions on the border on Tuesday morning, welcomed the prime minister’s shift in position, telling Sky News: “What’s interesting is the prime minister appears to be considering at least one element of what this report implies, which is a streamlined arrangement for Northern Ireland.

“So that’s the first element, there may be other elements she’ll consider – if she does, I’ll be very pleased to support her.”

Arlene Foster repeats that the DUP will never vote to break up the union


DUP leader: We won’t break up the union

The decision to re-open the Irish backstop issue comes as the prime minister tries to prevent rebellious Tories from sending in enough letters to trigger a confidence vote in her leadership.

MPs are split between trying to force her out now or after the vote on the withdrawal agreement.

Many Brexiteers think this will be the point of maximum vulnerability for the prime minister and the best moment to oust her from office. Others, such as Jacob Rees-Mogg, have warned colleagues this is the “now or never” moment to remove her from post.

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