Daily Brexit update: Backstop backtrack?

Downing Street could be having a last-minute change of heart

Downing Street may have left it till the ‘last minute’ to signal a change of heart about the Northern Ireland backstop, a day before Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit bill is due to be debated in Parliament. After May’s spokesman reminded reporters on Monday that the fall-back mechanism to avoid a hard border in Ireland was “rejected by MPs by a very significant margin”, multiple reports emerged that the PM is urging supporters to vote in favour of an amendment to be proposed on Tuesday that calls for “alternative arrangements”. The amendment is supposed to be tabled by the chairman of the influential group of backbench Tories known as the 1922 Committee, Graham Brady. This suggests it might garner broader support outside the cabinet. It’s as yet unclear exactly what the ‘alternative arrangements’ are exactly though. Brady points to a possible legally binding ‘annex’ to the withdrawal treaty (including the backstop) clarifying that the backstop is temporary. 

Even if (and it’s a gargantuan ‘if’) Parliament does back this idea, there is of course the not inconsiderable matter of the EU’s frequent adamant insistences that the backstop can’t be tampered with. “There will be no more negotiations on the Withdrawal Agreement” noted one senior German European Commission official on Monday. Another point of caution is that Theresa May has not deviated in public from her view that “there is no alternative” to the backstop. So, the intrigue deepens. There are ever more signs of the kind noted last week showing that views of the Government and Brexit supporting rebels are beginning to converge, with both slowly moving away from intransigent positions. But convergence is not happening quickly enough to equate to compromise. And the European Union’s stance on the backstop remains a formidable obstacle. Consequently, one of the Brexit-weakening amendments set to be voted on tomorrow still has a much better chance of winning broad Parliamentary support than the unadulterated Bill. Fittingly, sterling’s consolidation on Monday, after a 2.41% hike last week, is amounting to a slip of just 0.3%.

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