The question below about the so-called backstop position on avoiding a hard land border, and its consequences for Northern Ireland’s status in the UK, was one we posed to the prime minister on her visit to a farm in Co Down, outside Bangor, near Crawfordsburn yesterday:
News Letter: Prime Minister, in December of course there was the agreement which included a third, so-called backstop position on the border and when the EU tried to turn that into legal text last month you said that it was something that no UK prime minister could ever agree, and yet David Davis has not ruled out the principle of a backstop even though he hasn’t agreed that particular detail, which could leave the anxiety among unionists that at some late stage or in some sudden deal Northern Ireland stays in the single market and customs union unlike the rest of the UK, therefore a border in the Irish Sea.
We are just wondering whether you can rule that out?
Prime minister: Well, first of all I am very clear, as actually the Irish government have made clear, that for both of us, our preferred option and way forward is – and the way I genuinely believe that we can reach an agreement that actually ensures that we don’t have a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland – is through the overall relationship that the UK will negotiate with the European Union.
There is that third backstop option, of course, it is only the third option, because the overall relationship with the EU is plan A, then there’s a plan B which would be if there needed to be any specific Northern Ireland arrangements and then of course plan C.
You’re absolutely right – and indeed, the plan C that the European Commission put into their draft legal text actually does not properly reflect or fairly reflect the joint report in December, because in the joint report in December of course we set out those three stages with that backstop but also made clear that businesses here in Northern Ireland should be able to trade freely in the internal market of the UK in the future, ie no hard border, no border down the Irish Sea.
So it is in all our interests, and we have now started discussions, at the beginning of the week my team were over in Brussels, we’re talking to the commission about the sort of arrangements, the sort of customs arrangements that could be in place to ensure that we deliver on the commitment, which is our absolute commitment for no hard border.
NL: In the Irish Sea?
PM: Well, no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland but also we are very clear that we will not have a border down the Irish Sea because we want the UK internal market to be able to continue to operate as it does, to operate freely and free trade between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.
Then responding to Press Association, the prime minister referred to the News Letter question and said: “... I have [today] been to Scotland, I have been to Northumberland, I am going on from here to Wales, so all four nations of the UK, showing actually not just that we want a Brexit deal that is right for the whole of the United Kingdom, but actually the strength of the United Kingdom, and it is coming back to the internal market point – this is I think the most successful union in the world and we want to maintain that, and it’s about trade but it is also about people.”