In Depth

Brexit: what is Theresa May’s plan B?

PM expected to ditch efforts to forge cross-party consensus and instead focus on winning over DUP and Tory rebels

Theresa May is expected to announced plans for a new diplomatic push to renegotiate the Irish backstop as she presents her plan B for Brexit in the House of Commons today.

During a conference call yesterday, May reportedly told Cabinet ministers that her new goal is to secure concessions from Brussels over the controversial Irish border issue, and then put her deal to the Commons for a vote in the coming weeks. 

But The Guardian reports that the prime minister was “light on specifics”, with one source saying there were “no actual solutions” proposed. Another source told the newspaper: “It is difficult to know - as ever - what she will do. But the broad agreement is on the need to bring DUP and Tory rebels on board.”

The new strategy would mark the end of what Politico’s Jack Blanchard describes as May’s “brief and less-than-convincing effort” to find a cross-party solution to the Brexit crisis.

“The consensus on the call was that the things the opposition Labour party has publicly asked for, including maintaining a customs union with the EU, would split the Conservative Party if May agreed to them,” reports Bloomberg.

It also “marks something of a victory for Cabinet Brexiteers, who have been urging the PM for weeks not to soften her position”, says Politico’s Blanchard.

One minister told PoliticsHome that the PM has chosen a “one more heave” strategy, in an effort to win the backing of Conservative Eurosceptics and the DUP.

One such Tory Eurosceptic, MP Eddie Hughes, told BBC Radio 4’s Westminster Hour, that a big concession on the backstop would be a huge step towards winning over Brexiteers.

Hughes said: “I think if she comes up with a way of making sure that we can either leave [the backstop] unilaterally, or making some sort of sunset clause on the backstop, then that will go a long way to allaying my fears - and I would think the DUP would be keen to be involved as well then.”

May’s new plan would need the support of the EU27 and she is reported to have been holding private talks with key figures including German Chancellor Angela Merkel and European Council President Donald Tusk over recent days.

But one idea reportedly being floated by No. 10 has already been shot down by the Irish government, according to The Sunday Times.

The newspaper claims that Downing Street has been looking into the possibility of signing a separate treaty with Ireland that would negate the need for the backstop agreement on the Irish border.

But Fine Gael MEP Mairead McGuinness, vice president of the European Parliament, ruled out such a move during an appearance on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme this morning.

“Ireland is part of the European Union so the idea that one country of the 27 would have this particular arrangement with the United Kingdom, separate from what the EU does, really is not an option,” McGuinness said.

Following today’s address to the Commons, May will look to secure the backing of Parliament for her new plan next week, before returning to Brussels with a mandate for fresh talks, reports The Times.

“The prime minister will try to use a vote in the Commons on 29 January to show these changes [to the backstop] could secure a majority among MPs,” the paper continues.

“A ‘meaningful vote’ on her revised deal would need to wait for talks with EU officials to finish, which could take at least a week. There would then be a week of debate in the Commons. Cabinet officials believe that the new vote will not take place until the middle of next month.”

But the BBC’s Europe editior Katya Adler tweets that May’s preferred timeline of events may not be to Brussels’ liking.

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