Beleaguered Theresa May will visit Northern Ireland today in an effort to sell her much-maligned Brexit deal to politicians and the wider public.
The prime minister has embarked on a two-week campaign to win approval for her withdrawal agreement ahead of a crunch vote in the Commons on December 11.
And while the accord has received the backing of business and farming leaders in the Province, the PM faces an uphill battle to get the deal through parliament, with fierce resistance from the DUP, opposition parties and many of her own MPs.
During her trip to Belfast, Mrs May will set out how she believes her deal strengthens the Union and “delivers for every corner of the UK”.
Making her case, she will take part in a round-table discussion at Queen’s University Belfast with groups from across society, including students, academics and community and religious leaders.
She will then meet with all five of NI’s main political parties, where she will urge politicians to back her plan.
Speaking ahead of her visit to the Province, the PM said the UK would be leaving the bloc “as one”.
“My deal delivers for every corner of the UK and I will work hard to strengthen the bonds that unite us as we look ahead to our future outside of the EU,” she added.
Mrs May also asserted that the agreement reached on the backstop “honours the Belfast Agreement” and “ensures there will be no return to the borders of the past”.
She added: “This deal avoids a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland. This has been at the forefront of my mind throughout the negotiations.
It has been especially clear to me when I have visited communities along the border in Northern Ireland and seen first-hand how important it is that the unique circumstances local employers face are recognised in any agreement.
“They need to be able to trade freely across the border with Ireland and have unfettered access to the rest of the United Kingdom’s market. This deal makes that possible and that’s why, across Northern Ireland, employers large and small have been getting behind it.”
Leaders in the business and farming sectors have expressed their support for the deal and publicly warned about the potential consequences of no deal for NI.
But the DUP has warned that if the backstop is triggered, it will carve NI off from the rest of the UK.
The party is concerned the backstop could threaten the constitutional integrity of the Union and place a regulatory border down the Irish Sea, leaving NI aligned to some EU rules post-Brexit.
UUP leader Robin Swann has called on the PM to put plans in place for the extension of Article 50 “rather than risk the future of the Union for the sake of meeting a deadline”.
The North Antrim MLA added: “We do not believe that this withdrawal agreement is as good as it gets. And if the price to pay for it continues to be a border up the Irish Sea, we will continue to oppose it and tell the prime minister that the UK Government needs to go back to the negotiating table.”
Meanwhile, the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland has voiced its opposition to the draft agreement, warning that it would “diminish the constitutional integrity of the UK”.
It came as Taoiseach Leo Varadkar met with the Grand Secretary of the Orange Order, Reverend Mervyn Gibson in Dublin yesterday.