Prime Minister Theresa May is usually at the helm of Brexit negotiations during the weekly PMQs – but not today. Mrs May was absent from the Commons for the 30-minute session starting at 12pm. Cabinet Office minister David Lidington answered questions from MPs on her behalf, going head-to-head with Labour’s Emily Thornberry, the Shadow Foreign Secretary.
He said: “She has to put direct rule in place come March 30 because Northern Ireland needs political leadership and it needs political direction.
“So by March 29, if we are coming out with no deal with no Executive, we need direct rule for Northern Ireland, the manufacturing industry needs direction, our agrifood industry needs direction, we need some sort of political leadership in Northern Ireland.”
Mrs May is under a pressure to secure a deal that will satisfy Remainers, Brexiteers and the European Union (EU) with less than 50 days to go until the deadline.
Her visit comes as European Council president Donald Tusk warned there will be “a special place in hell” for those who promoted Brexit without any plan for how to deliver it safely.
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His comments were made as he met Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar following talks in Brussels in which they discussed preparations for what Mr Tusk described as the “fiasco” of a no-deal Brexit on March 29.
In a message to Mrs May, Mr Tusk said: “Give us a deliverable guarantee for peace in Northern Ireland and the UK will leave the EU as a trusted friend.
“I hope that the UK Government will present ideas that will both respect this point of view and at the same time command a stable and clear majority in the House of Commons.
“I strongly believe that a common solution is possible and I will do everything in my power to find it.”
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He concluded with his “special place in hell” line directed at hardline Brexiteers.
Mrs May yesterday told an audience in Belfast she had no intention of allowing a hard border between the North and Republic of Ireland.
When asked how she could persuade Northern Ireland to back an agreement without a backstop in place, Mrs May said: “I’m not proposing to persuade people to accept a deal that doesn’t contain that insurance policy for the future.
“What Parliament has said is that they believe there should be changes made to the backstop.”