Irish foreign minister deals another blow to Theresa May by insisting backstop ‘isn’t going to change’

Ireland’s foreign minister dealt another Brexit blow to Theresa May today as he insisted the backstop “isn’t going to change” and that it is “already a compromise.”

Mrs May sought to gain backing from MPs on her controversial Brexit deal by telling them last week that she would go back to the EU to seek changes to the backstop which is designed to prevent a hard border in Ireland.

But Irish foreign minister Simon Coveney told the BBC’s Andrew Marr show: “The backstop is already a compromise. It is a series of compromises.

“It was designed around British red lines.

“Ireland has the same position as the European Union now, I think, when we say that the backstop as part of the Withdrawal Agreement is part of a balanced package that isn’t going to change.”

He added that the European Parliament would not ratify a Withdrawal Agreement that does not have a backstop in it. “It’s as simple as that,” he said.

His comments came as it emerged that MPs may need to work longer and lose their February break if Brexit is to be delivered on time.

The government is to consult Parliament on the extra hours needed to get Brexit legislation onto the statute book before the leaving date of March 29 this year.

Commons leader Andrea Leadsom today described plans by MPs to put forward an amendment to the Prime Minister’s latest Brexit motion to extend Article 50 and delay Brexit as a “thinly veiled attempt” to stop it altogether.

Speaking on the Andrew Marr Show, Labour MP Yvette Cooper said she was not seeking to “block Brexit” with her amendment that seeks to extend Article 50 to avoid a no-deal exit.

The former Treasury minister said she was not yet sure if she had the backing of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, nor of some of the Tory frontbench but Angela Rayner, the shadow education secretary, earlier said that Labour was willing to do whatever it could to stop a no-deal.

On Mr Corbyn, Ms Cooper said: “I hope he will support it – he obviously needs to make a decision in the normal way.

“I suppose what I would say to him, to the Prime Minister, to the Government ministers who I think also want to make sure that we don’t have no deal is in the end we can’t… keep waiting for other people to sort this out.

“We can’t carry on with a kind of game of chicken… That’s not a way to make sensible decisions.

“In the end someone has to take some responsibility and say: ‘if the Prime Minister runs out of time she may need some more time’ – that is not about blocking Brexit, that is about being responsible and making sure you can get a Brexit deal.”

Health Secretary Matt Hancock told the show that he did not agree with her amendment.

Mr Hancock said: “No, because delaying Brexit won’t help solve these problems.

“The thing I would say in response to Yvette and all those who feel so strongly against having a no-deal exit is… you can’t just vote for delay – that doesn’t solve anything – you have got to vote positively for a deal, so let’s keep having those conversations about what the Commons can coalesce around.”

Mr Hancock also denied that the Irish foreign minister’s remarks meant Mrs May’s Brexit deal was “dead in the water.”

“The whole purpose of the backstop is to avoid a hard border, which risks being a consequence of a no-deal Brexit.

“The idea the EU and the Irish Government would drive this process to a no-deal exit in order to try to achieve something which is intended to avoid no-deal Brexit, that is not going to happen.”

On Tuesday, MPs will vote on the PM’s policy stance on Brexit in the Commons but MPs have tabled a series of amendments to the motion which could change the course of Brexit.

Commons Speaker John Bercow is expected to choose up to six amendments for MPs to vote on.

Other amendments are also tabled to rule out a no-deal Brexit and to stage a series of “indicative” votes to work out which approach to Brexit could gain a majority in the Commons.

The Sunday Times reported today that Mrs May’s husband Philip had been accused by her chief of staff and former MP Gavin Barwell of “scuppering” plans to offer Labour a permanent customs union with the EU to try and get their backing.

Mr May is said to have continued to encourage his wife to seek a deal that is approved by the DUP and Brexiteer Tories.

The newspaper also reported that Whitehall officials were considering imposing martial law in Britain in the event of no-deal to prevent civil disobedience.