London : Prime Minister Theresa May is set to face down her Conservative critics amid reports of a fresh EU offer aimed at breaking the Brexit deadlock.
There are signs Mrs May believes she can fend off the latest attacks from within her own party, as she attends a meeting of the influential 1922 Committee of backbench MPs today.
It has now emerged that the EU is prepared to offer a UK-wide customs union rather than a so-called ‘backstop’ limited to Northern Ireland alone.
However, the EU will insist a special recognition of the situation on this island will have to be factored into the arrangement. The Irish government says that while a time limit could apply to a backstop in England, Scotland and Wales, it must stay in place for Northern Ireland “unless and until” a deal ensuring a soft border is secured.
But Mrs May’s official spokesman said: “The prospect of Northern Ireland being placed in a different customs arrangement to the rest of the UK is unacceptable.”
Irish premier Leo Varadkar has said he has “every confidence” the UK Government will not want to move away from its commitments to the backstop agreement.
Meanwhile, ministers were told the UK could be forced to charter ships to bring in food and other supplies if a no-deal Brexit caused chaos in the English Channel. The Cabinet was briefed on the plans for alternatives if new customs controls in France blocked the Dover-Calais route, the Financial Times reported.
The newspaper said Transport Secretary Chris Grayling had discussed the possibility of hiring ships, or securing space in vessels, to bring food, medicines and other supplies in through alternative ports.
A Department for Transport spokesman said: “We remain confident of reaching an agreement with the EU, but it is only sensible for government and industry to prepare for a range of scenarios.”