The spokesman for Northern Ireland’s pro-Brexit Democratic Unionist Party, Sammy Wilson, said the party rejected the legal assurances that UK Prime Minister Theresa May negotiated with European Commissioner Jean-Claude Juncker in Brussels on Tuesday.
Wilson said the legal assurances secured by May “fall short” of her promises, but he did not indicate whether the party would, again, vote against the Withdrawal Agreement in the House of Commons.
“I have got to say that if you look at what the prime minister has said so far it seems to fall short of what she, herself, had promised. She is simply saying it reduces the chances of us being kept in the backstop,” Wilson told LBC radio, in reference to the so-called ‘Irish backstop’ – the policy within the Withdrawal Agreement aimed at making sure no hard border appears between Northern Ireland and Ireland.
Talks on Monday with the European Commission resulted in what the press initially hailed as a “breakthrough”. but which appears short of what is needed for the deal to pass on Tuesday.
In Westminster, the chairman of a research group of pro-Brexit MPs Jacob Rees-Mogg said his group has a team of lawyers reviewing the agreement.
“I’m not sure that the agreements with the EU are a major change…that they continue to be promises of goodwill, but we have heard what the Irish have to say,” he said, adding, “Many Conservatives will be heavily influenced by the DUP’s (Democratic Unionist Party’s) view,” which appears to be rejecting the deal.
Ireland’s Prime Minister Leo Varadkar echoed the assurances of Juncker, saying the legal assurances provided were “additional” and do not call into question the principle of the backstop until a better arrangement can be forged.
All eyes are now on the UK’s Attorney General, Geoffrey Cox, who will give his legal advice on the backstop. He had previously warned that it could “endure indefinitely,” and it remains to be seen if Cox sees a substantial legal change from the clarifications secured in Brussels.
The joint interpretative instrument stating that the EU could not deliberately seek to keep the UK in the backstop by failing to negotiate a new trade deal in good faith.
The joint UK-EU statement in the non-binding political declaration commits both sides to develop new technologies at the border to replace the need for the backstop by December 2020.
A unilateral declaration by the UK stated that nothing will stop the UK launching a procedure to ultimately get out of the backstop should the EU not act in good faith and agree to a free trade deal to supersede the backstop.