UK Prime Minister Theresa May has reiterated that she will not re-open the Good Friday Agreement during the Brexit negotiating process.
In a statement before the House of Commons on January 21st, less than one week after the humiliating parliamentary defeat of the so-called Withdrawal Treaty, the beleaguered leader said the UK must respect the Belfast Agreement at all costs. May also rejected calls for a second referendum and any extension of Article 50.
She said ‘our duty is to implement the decision of the first vote,’ while returning to the people for a second one would ‘set a difficult precedent … and damage social cohesion by undermining faith in our democracy.’ Any extension to Article 50 was just ‘deferring the point of decision,’ she said, adding that it would likely be rejected by the EU.
During her statement on January 21, the Conservative leader also confirmed government plans to waive the proposed fee for millions of EU nationals living in the UK to apply for ‘settled status,’ i.e. the same access to healthcare and education post-Brexit. Under the plans, those EU nationals aged 16 of over wishing to stay in the country would have to pay a fee of £65, with those younger to pay £32.50.
May also sought to allay fears among Northern Ireland’s DUP and others on the backstop on the island of Ireland – a safety net to ensure no return to a hard border. She pledged to take ‘the conclusions of these discussions back to the EU.’ May is understood to be exploring potential ‘movement’ on the backstop that could secure the backing of a majority of MPs.
Rebels within her own political party as well as Labour MPs accused her of being in denial about the scale of opposition to her ‘undeliverable’ deal. Parliamentarians will vote on her slightly ‘revised’ Brexit strategy on January 29th.
• Rose O’Donovan is the Editor-in-Chief of the Brussels-based publication AGRA FACTS.
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