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Theresa May’s Brexit speech in Northern Ireland gets a mixed reception
Theresa May has claimed that there is “no suggestion”of Britain leaving the EU without measures in place to avoid a hard border in Ireland, in a speech that appeared to warn Brexit supporters that the prime minister’s red lines were still firmly in place.
In a speech made in Belfast on Tuesday, May said that technology could “play a part” in an alternative arrangement to the Irish border backstop, but insisted she would not accept anything that disrupted the lives of border communities.
May took the trip to Northern Ireland on Tuesday in an effort to reassure business leaders that there would be trade without physical border checks after Brexit. Business leaders met the PM’s speech with a mildly positive reception, but expressed concerns after the speech that reassurances on a hard border were vague.
Speaking on Tuesday, May said: “Northern Ireland does not have to rely on the Irish government or the European Union to prevent a return to borders of the past,”
“The UK government will not let that happen. I will not let that happen.”
Downing Street insisted on Tuesday that the prime minister was still looking into alternatives such as an “exit clause” or “time limit” to the Irish border backstop.
May prepares for Juncker meeting on Thursday
Theresa May will return to Brussels on Thursday to try and win concessions on the current Brexit deal, despite EU leaders’ insistence that they were not willing to renegotiate it.
In the morning, the prime minister will meet Jean Claude Juncker, the European commission president, and meet Donald Tusk, the president of the European council in the afternoon.
At the meeting, May is expected to attempt to request that the withdrawal agreement is reopened so that key issues – most notably the Irish border backstop – can be changed enough for the prime minister to gain support for her deal back home.
In a meeting of her cabinet on Tuesday, May is expected to have told ministers that there are three options she would consider as an alternative to the current backstop proposal: alternative technological arrangements, a time-limit or a unilateral exit mechanism.
Speaking on Tuesday the prime minister’s spokesman said: “Following the vote, work has been taking place on all of the options and it is important for that to take place before we go to Brussels.”
Ireland and EU discuss ‘Brexit emergency fund’
Irish and EU officials are holding talks to discuss a Brexit emergency fund designed to offset the damage which is expected to be caused to the country’s €4.5bn (£3.96bn) worth of food exports to the UK, in the case of a no-deal Brexit.
As Theresa May travels to Brussels to try and win concessions on the Irish border backstop, EU officials are already discussing awarding compensation to Ireland in order to prepare for the growing fear of the UK crashing out of the bloc without a deal.
Ireland currently exports around €4.5bn worth of food and drink to the UK. Ireland’s minister for agriculture, food and the marine Michael Creed said that the looming threat of being cut off from this exporting would pose an “existential challenge” for the food and drink sector.
The Irish PM Leo Varadkar is expected to further discuss the emergency fund when he meets with EU officials in Brussels for a round of talks on Wednesday.
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