The Irish backstop is the only “outstanding issue” on Brexit for the UK, Jeremy Hunt has said, warning that crashing out of the EU without a deal would be “cataclysmic”.
The foreign secretary said that the highly controversial backstop – which would see the UK temporarily remain in a single customs territory with the EU if the two cannot agree a trade deal – was “soluble”, calling on the European Union to “define what temporary is”.
While the safety net has been proposed in order to ensure a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland, hardline Brexiteers have warned it would leave the UK following EU rules for an indefinite amount of time.
But Hunt told Radio 4′s Today programme that the UK can “absolutely” deal with the situation, saying that parliament could “live with” a temporary backstop as long as the EU could prove it would not be a long-term deal.
“So I am a supporter of Theresa May’s deal with those qualifications to the backstop,” he said.
“And I think MPs, as they reflect on how close we are to an agreement but also how cataclysmic it would be if we didn’t end up having an agreement we could get through parliament, the best thing is to put our heads down and make sure we have a version of this agreement that we can through parliament.”
The cabinet minister’s comments come on the same day Jeremy Corbyn urged Theresa May to cut short parliament’s Christmas break so MPs could vote on her Brexit deal.
In December, the prime minister shelved MPs’ meaningful vote on her deal until the middle of January after admitting it would not pass through parliament.
But the Labour leader said parliamentarians must be given a chance to vote on the deal “as soon as possible”, accusing May of trying to “run down the clock”.