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6 February 2019

Theresa May being dishonest is nothing new. But this time, it could lead to a no-deal Brexit

That age-old backstop problem again.

By Stephen Bush

What are Theresa May’s intentions as far as the backstop and the Brexit deal? That’s the question that no one can reliably answer.

The Prime Minister assured an audience of business leaders in Northern Ireland that her commitment to maintaining the status quo on the Irish border remains “unshakeable” and that she is not proposing a withdrawal agreement that doesn’t contain an insurance policy as far as the border goes.

But, of course, her promises to the DUP and the Conservative Party are rather different. It’s not a new phenomenon that May says one thing and does another, but this time it has major implications to whether the United Kingdom can avoid no deal.

As for Labour, the party’s position on the backstop seems to be in flux too, with several shadow ministers accepting publicly that any deal will have to involve a backstop while Jeremy Corbyn registers his disquiet at signing any treaty without a unilateral exit clause. As Patrick reveals, this has unsettled shadow ministers who believed that the party’s position had been settled. The reality is that the agreed position hasn’t changed – Labour doesn’t like the backstop but accepts that a deal may have to contain one – but it has spooked the party’s allies in Northern Ireland and worried Labour MPs too.

It comes back to one of the most important things about Corbyn: he struggles to say things he doesn’t believe. So when he talks about the need to avoid no deal we should take that at face value. Coupled with Len McCluskey’s efforts to reach a deal – which, Jim Pickard reports in the FT, are causing disquiet in the other trades unions – there is a majority to be found for May with the right concessions.

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But as Eleni explains, what the bulk of Labour MPs – who like Corbyn, don’t want no Brexit and don’t want a no-deal exit either – are looking for is policy concessions. Much hinges on whether May is willing or able to pay that price