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Theresa May says she has listened to 'Unionist concerns' on Irish backstop

DUP have said the "fundamental flaws" of the withdrawal agreement remain unchanged.

Prime Minister Theresa May has said her new Brexit deal will seek to find alternative arrangements for the Irish backstop by December 2020.

As part of her proposed Withdrawal Agreement, the House of Commons could hold a vote on whether a second referendum should take place ahead of any ratification of the Withdrawal Agreement. This means the deal could be voted through the House of Commons, but a second referendum could be held before that deal takes effect.

Unveiling her new proposals earlier this evening, Mrs May said she had listened to "Unionist concerns" about the backstop, saying that if the backstop ever comes into force, the Government will "commit to ensure that Great Britain will stay aligned with Northern Ireland".

She also warned MPs that rejection of this deal could lead to a "nightmare future".

Mrs May held a marathon meeting of more than three hours with her Cabinet this morning, before Downing Street announced she was to make a statement at 4pm outlining her new proposed Brexit deal.

She told her Cabinet: "The Withdrawal Agreement Bill is the vehicle which gets the UK out of the EU and it is vital to find a way to get it over the line.

Prime Minister Theresa May making a speech in central London on her latest Brexit plans (PA/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

In her statement, Mrs May said the new Brexit deal will seek to conclude alternative arrangements for the Irish backstop by December 2020.

"Although it's not possible for (alternative arrangements) to replace the backstop in the Withdrawal Agreement, we can start the work now to ensure they are a viable alternative.

"So as part of the new Brexit deal we will place the Government under a legal obligation to seek to conclude alternative arrangements by December 2020 so that we can avoid any need for the backstop coming into force."

Mrs May said her new Brexit deal had "listened to Unionist concerns" about the backstop.

"So the new Brexit deal goes further," she said. "It will commit that should the backstop come into force the Government will commit to ensure that Great Britain will stay aligned with Northern Ireland.

"We will prohibit the proposal that a future government could split Northern Ireland off from the UK's customs territory."

Mrs May said: "The new Brexit deal will set out in law that the House of Commons would approve the UK's objectives for the negotiations on our future relations with the EU.

"And they will approve the treaties governing that relationship before the Government signs them."

DUP MP Nigel Dodds said the fundamental flaws of the draft Withdrawal Agreement remained unchanged.

"Many of the proposals on the backstop serve as an attempt through domestic law to mitigate a bad deal whereas the focus should be on getting a better deal," the North Belfast MP said.

"The only positive vote in the House of Commons on Brexit was the Brady amendment which called for alternative arrangements to the backstop to be implemented in the treaty and other changes to remove the current threats posed by the backstop.

"That still remains the best way forward to a stable majority in the House of Commons which would deliver Brexit and protect the Union. That is what this or a new Prime Minister must address."

Nigel Dodds

Mrs May said the Government will commit in law to let Parliament decide on the customs issue and there will be a requirement to vote on whether to hold a second referendum.

Mrs May said: "We will introduce a new Workers Rights Bill to ensure UK workers enjoy rights that are every bit as good as, or better than, those provided for by EU rules.

"And we will discuss further amendments with trade unions and businesses."

On a second referendum, Mrs May said: "I recognise the genuine and sincere strength of feeling across the House on this important issue.

"The Government will therefore include in the Withdrawal Agreement Bill at introduction a requirement to vote on whether to hold a second referendum and this must take place before the Withdrawal Agreement can be ratified."

Mrs May warned this was the last chance to avoid "a nightmare future of permanently polarised politics" and her deal would be guaranteed to last for "at least this Parliament".

Prime Minister Theresa May making her speech on Brexit plans (Kirsty Wigglesworth/PA)

She said: "If MPs vote against the second reading of this Bill they are voting to stop Brexit.

"If they do so the consequences could hardly be greater - reject this deal and leaving the EU with a negotiated deal any time soon will be dead in the water and what would we do then?

"... If not no-deal then it would have to be a general election or a second referendum that could lead to revocation and no Brexit at all."

"This is a huge opportunity for the United Kingdom.

"Out of the EU. Out of ever-closer union. Free to do things differently.

"And doing so in a way that protects jobs, protects our security, maintains a close relationship with our friends and works for the whole United Kingdom.

"It is practical. It is responsible. It is deliverable.

"And right now, it is slipping away from us.

"We risk losing a great opportunity," she said.

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