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Theresa May 'not confident' unionists would win Irish border poll - reports

May 'not prepared to risk' breaking up union over Brexit

Reports suggest Jacob Rees Mogg and Theresa May clashed over the Irish border issue.
Reports suggest Jacob Rees Mogg and Theresa May clashed over the Irish border issue.
Jonathan Bell

By Jonathan Bell

Theresa May has said she is not confident of certain victory in an Irish border poll, according to reports.

The Times reports of a confrontation between the Prime Minister and the Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg during briefings on Monday aimed at bringing the Conservative party together over the Brexit difficulties.

The briefings were - according to the paper's sources - aimed at "sending a tough signal" to hardline elements within her party she was not prepared to risk breaking up the Union.

Around 150 MPs attended in which the plans for the border were outlined to them. They were described as "highly technical briefings" on three options considered by Britain as options to pitch to the EU on the border issue.

Sources told the newspaper Mrs May and Mr Rees-Mogg clashed over plans for the Irish border.

The Times reports that Mr Rees-Mogg suggested the UK should keep the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic open with Mrs May countering that the EU could impose infrastructure to protect the integrity of the single market.

Sources said the backbench MP told Mrs May he had "no doubt" Northern Ireland would remain within the UK after any border poll.

Apparently Mrs May responded: "I would not be as confident as you. That’s not a risk I’m prepared to take. We cannot be confident on the politics of that situation, on how it plays out."

A Tory MP said Mrs May "slapped him down hard".

"She got him on facts.

"She was absolutely firm and passionate about the Irish position. I got a sense she realises what really matters," the MP told the Times.

The Good Friday Agreement states the Secretary of State should call a border poll if "it appears likely... a majority of those voting would express a wish that Northern Ireland should cease to be part of the United Kingdom and form part of a united Ireland".

Mr Rees-Mogg did not comment on the exchanges but said that the meeting was “courteous and respectful”. Number 10 has been asked for a comment.

Writing in the Daily Telegraph, he accused the EU of treating Britain with "disdain" and using the Irish border as a way to stop Brexit and if they continue to "reject all practical approaches, it is, with regret, that we will have to graciously accept their rejection".

"If they either do not want to or simply cannot broker a deal, a deal will not be done."

The Cabinet sub-committee meets on Tuesday as discussions continue on how to resolve the border issue. Brexit secretary David Davis has said they are working toward finding a resolution by the autumn. However, the EU has said it expects a resolution by the June summit.

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