January 9, 2019 / 5:53 PM / 6 months ago

UK government backs giving parliament chance to reject Northern Irish backstop

FILE PHOTO: A former customs hut is seen behind a Brexit sign between Donegal in the Republic of Ireland and Londonderry in Northern Ireland at the border village of Muff, Ireland, February 1, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne/File Photo

LONDON (Reuters) - The government said on Wednesday it would support a change to its Brexit plan that gives parliament the chance to vote against activating unpopular backstop arrangements designed to prevent a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Britain’s parliament is debating whether to approve Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit agreement with the European Union - a pivotal decision that would cast the departure process into chaos if the deal was rejected.

Brexit minister Stephen Barclay said the government would support a proposed change to the wording of parliament’s approval which would give lawmakers a greater say later in the exit process.

The amendment was first published in December and at the time did little to win over skeptical MPs, so is not expected to change the course of the debate.

If approved when voting takes place on Jan. 15, the change would mean parliament can vote to reject entering the backstop - a fallback arrangement agreed with the EU that would keep trade flowing seamlessly between Ireland and Northern Ireland if a trade deal cannot be agreed by December 2020.

The backstop is one of the primary obstacles between May and victory in Tuesday’s vote.

It has riled euroskeptics and the Northern Irish party that supports May’s government, who fear it is a trap designed to keep the country under the influence of the EU or drive a wedge between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom.

The amendment would give parliament a greater say, but would not cancel out Britain’s international obligation to avoid a hard border in Northern Ireland.

As such, its value would be largely political, providing Britain with a clear mandate to seek alternative arrangements to the backstop such as technological customs solutions.

Reporting by William James; editing by John Stonestreet

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