British Prime Minister Theresa May should stand firm in demanding that the EU agree to changes to the Northern Irish backstop provision in a draft Brexit withdrawal deal, the deputy leader of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) said on Sunday.
The DUP — the Northern Irish party that props up May's minority Conservative government — strongly rejects the so-called backstop, a plan to keep an open border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland if the EU and Britain fail to agree on a post-Brexit trade deal.
"The EU has shown in the past that it will move but only if faced with a resolute red line on the part of the UK government," deputy DUP leader Nigel Dodds said in a statement. "The coming days will show if this government is made of the right stuff."
Read more: The Irish border — what you need to know
'Uncharted territory' if UK parliament votes no
May has been struggling to convince the DUP and hard-line lawmakers in her own party to support the withdrawal deal amid fears that the backstop could threaten the integrity of the UK or force the country to accept EU rules indefinitely.
The prime minister has said she would work to get more EU "assurances" on the temporary nature of the backstop, but has repeatedly said that the current deal was final.
May tried to sell her deal in a TV interview on the BBC on Sunday, roughly one week ahead of a crucial parliamentary vote on the agreement.
"If the deal is not voted on [in parliament], then we are going to be in uncharted territory," she said. "The danger there is that we end up with no Brexit at all," May added, also dismissing calls from Brexit opponents to hold a second referendum.
The prime minister also defended herself against critics by asking them to provide an alternative to the plan she had negotiated. "So far, nobody has put forward an alternative on all those issues," she said.
May confirmed that debate would start next week on a "meaningful vote" to take place in the House of Commons around January 14 and 15. She had postponed a December vote after it became clear she lacked the support with her own Conservative Party to get the agreement passed.
Work to be done
May also detailed measures her government would be working on in the upcoming weeks, highlighting three key areas: the border with Ireland; a greater role for the UK parliament in future negotiations with the EU; and further assurances from the EU on the terms of the future relationship.
However, she reiterated that the current withdrawal deal was the only possible one.
"The EU has made clear that this is the deal that is on the table," she said. "When MPs come to look at this vote, they need to ask, does it deliver on the referendum, does it protect jobs and security, does it provide certainty for business and citizens in the future? Yes it does."
European leaders have said they are not willing to make changes to the negotiated agreement, but said they will seek a speedy sign-off on a future free trade deal.
Preparations for a no-deal Brexit are ongoing in the UK and several other European countries. Record numbers of British citizens living in EU member states have also been applying for citizenship to secure their residency rights.
kw, cmb/amp (Reuters, dpa)