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Theresa May agrees to permanent Brexit backstop for Northern Ireland - reports could spell deal-breaker for DUP

By Gareth Cross

Prime Minister Theresa May has committed to a permanent backstop for Northern Ireland in the event of a no-deal Brexit according to reports.

RTE has reported that Mrs May has told Taoiseach Leo Varadkar that she accepts that any backstop cannot be temporary.

The backstop is an insurance policy which would keep Northern Ireland in the European Union's customs union and single market in the event of negotiations breaking down. It has been contested and is the major barrier to agreement.

The DUP have strongly opposed any backstop agreement which would separate Northern Ireland from the rest of the European Union.

Mrs May's Conservative Government relies on the support of DUP MPs to pass key legislation through a confidence and supply agreement between the parties. 

Speaking on Thursday morning Mrs May said she would consider extending the Brexit transition period by a "matter of months" in order to avoid a hard border in Ireland.

The United Kingdom is set to leave the EU on March 29 2019, with a transition period in place until the end of 2020.

Ireland's Europe Minister Helen McEntee said that the Prime Minister has reaffirmed her commitment  to the backstop during a meeting with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar in Brussels on Wednesday evening.

"I think we are both of the understanding that this is an insurance policy and obviously we want to address all of these issues in a future relationship," Mrs McEntee told BBC Radio Ulster's Good Morning Ulster programme. 

"One that ensures we don't have any kind of a border and one that protects the peace process, however, we have to have that insurance policy, and Theresa May reaffirmed her commitment to it last night.

"Support for Michel Barnier to continue the negotiations is strong, support for Ireland and the Irish backstop is still very strong."

UUP MEP Jim Nicholson said that the backstop proposals weren't working and called for an alternative solution.

"Both parties should now take stock and look at other ways of resolving the issue of the UK's border with the Republic of Ireland," he said.

"It is clear that the 'backstop' proposals aren't working. When the fudge was agreed in December the intention was that it would speed up progress. In fact the opposite has been the case and now negotiations are teetering over the edge. It has made progress more difficult rather than less difficult.

"We must move away from the idea that the only options are a border down the Irish Sea or no deal."

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