In a series of talks with EU chiefs in Brussels, the Prime Minister will insist that she will not allow the country to be “trapped” into a customs union as part of the backstop to keep the Northern Irish border free of checks. Downing Street insiders say Mrs May is braced for a flat refusal to her request from European president Jean-Claude Juncker and other key EU figures. But they believe the discussions will begin a burst of negotiations that they hope will see the EU make the concessions needed to agree a deal that can be approved by Parliament.
Mrs May will head to Dublin tomorrow for talks with Irish premier Leo Varadkar, who is coming under pressure to relax his opposition to any changes to the backstop.
However, after talks with Mr Varadkar yesterday, Mr Juncker insisted: “The backstop is a guarantee for Ireland and it is a guarantee for the European Union because the Irish border is a European border.”
Mrs May will today tell the EU leaders that she is open to a series of options to resolve the backstop row.
She will point out that a crushing vote against the Withdrawal Agreement in the Commons last month sent an “unequivocal message” that the deal must be changed, or the UK will quit the bloc without a deal.
Mrs May will also say both sides must “show determination and do what it takes to now get the deal over the line”.
The PM met a number of Northern Ireland politicians including senior figures from the Democratic Unionist Party and Sinn Fein in Belfast yesterday to discuss options for changing the backstop.
After the talks, DUP leader Arlene Foster said: “Our message was very simple. The draft Withdrawal Agreement is flawed because the backstop would undermine the economic and constitutional integrity of the United Kingdom.”