Theresa May is expected to set out plans to axe the Irish backstop from her Brexit deal with the EU, as she shuns efforts to find a cross-party consensus and focuses on winning over the DUP and rebels in her own party.
From her countryside retreat of Chequers on Sunday, the prime minister convened a conference call with her cabinet.
She briefed them on her recent calls with EU leaders and how she plans to respond to the historic defeat of her Brexit deal in the Commons last week.
Cabinet sources have told Sky News that Mrs May made clear she was ditching efforts to seek a cross-party compromise, because the level of support expected from Labour MPs was not deemed strong enough to pass the Withdrawal Agreement and the subsequent Brexit legislation required before the UK leaves the EU.
Instead, Mrs May is expected to set out plans to try and “remove the Irish backstop” in an effort to win around the DUP, whose 10 MPs she relies on for support in parliament, and some of the 118 Conservatives who opposed her deal last week.
The Irish backstop is the commitment within the Withdrawal Agreement that would mean the UK would effectively remain in the customs territory of the EU after Brexit if a trade deal that preserves an open border on the island of Ireland is not in place.
Sources suggest there was no detailed discussion of how the prime minister proposes to remove the backstop from the agreement, but reports in the Sunday Times raised the possibility of a separate bilateral treaty between London and Dublin serving as a replacement.
Downing Street sources have rejected reports in the Daily Telegraph that the 1998 Good Friday Agreement could be re-written to avoid the need for a backstop in the Withdrawal Agreement.
During an interview with the BBC’s Andrew Marr earlier, International Trade Secretary Liam Fox appeared to push back on the idea of a standalone treaty, but did hint that efforts to address the backstop in some form would likely be the government approach.
‘We can compromise, if we can find it with the European Union, over the backstop… what it means is that we find an alternative mechanism to ensure that we give the Irish government what they want,” said Mr Fox.
“Let’s see if we can explore ways of doing that differently because I think that is the compromise that is most likely to get us through,” he added.
The EU has repeatedly rejected any suggestion the Withdrawal Agreement could be amended, and Ireland’s Foreign Minister Simon Coveney earlier dismissed such suggestions.
“We remain united and focused on protecting Ireland,” he posted on Twitter.
“That includes continued support for the EU/UK agreed Withdrawal Agreement in full, including the backstop as negotiated”.