(Bloomberg) -- A cross-party group is seeking a way out of the Brexit “nightmare” by working together to find a deal that can secure a majority in Parliament, suggesting a Northern Ireland-only backstop may be one answer.
That would make the province the only part of the U.K. to remain aligned to European Union rules, allowing the free flow of goods over the land border with the Irish Republic until alternative arrangements can be agreed.
Nick Boles, an independent member of Parliament who quit the Tories this year and worked with Boris Johnson when he was Mayor of London, said the prime minister “doesn’t care about anything other than power and glory for himself.” He will seek to remain in office by any means, Boles said.
Johnson appears to be boxed in to a corner, having said he would rather “die in a ditch” than delay Brexit. He failed to secure a general election and is confronted by a Parliament that doesn’t support a no-deal split from the EU and passed a law requiring him to delay if he can’t reach an agreement next month.
While former Prime Minister Theresa May relied on the support of the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party’s 10 MPs to give her a working majority, the agreement ensuring their support expired when the Parliament session ended early on Tuesday morning.
Johnson, who will meet DUP leaders in London on Tuesday, no longer has a working majority after 21 Tory MPs were expelled over their support for the legislation blocking a no-deal Brexit. He’ll have to rely on Labour votes to get a deal passed, even if he can convince the DUP to come back on board.
“The Tory Party has been entirely in hock to the DUP ever since they lost their majority,” Boles said at the launch of the group on Tuesday, referring to the disastrous 2017 general election. The party “is no longer dependent on the DUP for a majority because it doesn’t have a majority because it fired its majority last week.”
DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson hit back at the revival of the idea of the Northern Ireland-only backstop, saying that Johnson would immediately have to find 20 extra votes in Parliament if the DUP’s 10 members vote against him.
“Is anyone seriously considering that he would want to lose that support?” Donaldson told BBC radio. “The idea that our influence is waning flies in the face of reality.”
Labour MP Caroline Flint, who represents a district that favored leaving the EU, said she estimates around 50 Labour MPs would back a compromise position and she hopes support for the group will grow.
A Northern Ireland-only backstop was in the original version of the Brexit deal but May’s government said it couldn’t accept separating one part of the U.K. from another.
The EU agreed to expand the backstop to the whole of the U.K., something it saw as a massive concession but which triggered the resignation of then Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab, who said it was a “very real threat to the integrity” of the country.
The EU has signaled it would welcome the return to a backstop that kept only Northern Ireland rather than the whole U.K. aligned to its customs and single market rules.
But it might run into trouble in Dublin. While the Irish government would be open to a Northern Ireland only arrangement, any proposals that hand a veto to the DUP, via the region’s power sharing assembly at Stormont, would likely be rejected.
Stephen Kinnock, Labour MP for a constituency in south Wales, said while MPs would not back a “carbon copy” of the May deal, it is now time to “stop kicking the can.”
“The tail is wagging the dog,” he said, referring to a rump of Tory MPs who won’t vote for a deal that includes the backstop arrangement in May’s deal, which would guarantee the free flow of goods across the Irish border after Brexit. “I have yet to meet a Labour MP who has a problem with the backstop.”
Johnson’s spokesman, James Slack, told reporters the government is “not seeking a Northern Ireland-only backstop.”
(Adds reaction from the DUP in seventh paragraph.)
--With assistance from Alex Morales, Dara Doyle and Ian Wishart.
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