LONDON — British Prime Minister Theresa May told business leaders in Northern Ireland Tuesday that she is seeking changes to the Brexit withdrawal agreement but not the total removal of the backstop plan that is the most contentious part of the deal.
May said during a visit to Belfast that the British government retains its commitment to preventing the construction of a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland when Britain leaves the European Union.
The prime minister said she was in Belfast “to affirm my commitment to delivering a Brexit that ensures no return to a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland — which is unshakable.”
She also emphasized the government’s commitment to the Good Friday agreement, largely credited with ending decades of violence known as “the Troubles” when it was signed in 1998.
Britain is scheduled to leave the EU on March 29, but no withdrawal agreement has been approved because Britain’s Parliament has voted down May’s plan, in part because of concerns about the difficult border issues.
The situation is complex because Ireland is a member of the EU while Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom. The currently wide open border between the two entities will after Brexit become the only land border between the UK and the EU.
May plans to meet with EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker in Brussels Thursday seeking concessions on border-related issues and will return to Parliament next week with what is expected to be a modified plan.
Her original plan was defeated by more than 200 votes, a loss of historic proportion for her minority government.
May is expected to have an uphill fight in Brussels because EU leaders have steadfastly opposed reopening the 585-page withdrawal agreement negotiated over the course of two years.