Theresa May has admitted assurances from the EU that it does not want the backstop to be triggered will not be enough to persuade many MPs to back her Brexit deal.
In a last-ditch effort to save her agreement with Brussels, the prime minister warned eurosceptic MPs on Monday if they sunk her plan the most likely outcome would be “no Brexit” at all.
MPs are expected to vote down the prime minister’s deal when it is put to the Commons on Tuesday.
In attempt to help May win over her critics, the EU said today it “does not wish to see the backstop enter into force” and confirmed its “determination” to see it replaced.
The Northern Irish backstop, which keeps the UK closely tied to Brussels rules, will be activated if the UK and EU fail to strike a trade deal that supersedes it.
Many pro-Brexit Tory MPs want the UK to have the power to withdraw from the backstop without EU approval, or for it to be legally time-limited.
But in its letters published this morning, Brussels did not agree to this.
European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker and European Council president Donald Tusk said they were “not in a position to agree to anything that changes or is inconsistent with the Withdrawal Agreement”.
Speaking in Stoke, May said the letters carried “legal force” and “make absolutely clear that the backstop is not a threat or a trap”.
“I’m convinced that MPs now have the clearest assurances that this is the best deal possible and is worthy of their support,” she said.
But admitted: “I fully understand that the new legal and political assurances which are contained in the letters from Donald Tusk and Jean-Claude Juncker do not go as far as some MPs would like.”
The prime minister rejected the idea that alternatives to her Withdrawal Agreement were available.
“Nobody has yet come up with an alternative Brexit deal that is negotiable and that delivers on the result of the referendum,” she said.
And she brushed aside suggestions that the EU might extend the two-year withdrawal process under Article 50 to the summer to allow more time for the UK to settle its position.
“We are leaving on March 29,” she said. “I have been clear I don’t believe we should be extending Article 50 and I don’t believe we should be having a second referendum.”
Dominic Raab, the former Brexit secretary, said the assurances from the EU were not enough.
“If you want a better Brexit deal, if you want a better Brexit, we do have to as MPs vote down the deal tomorrow,” he told a press conference in London.
Democratic Unionist Party deputy leader Nigel Dodds said that “rather than reassure us, the Tusk and Juncker letter bolsters our concerns” over the Brexit deal.
The government has also released a letter from Attorney General Geoffrey Cox in which he said EU assurances on the temporary nature of the backstop “would have legal force in international law”,
“It is therefore my judgment that the current draft Withdrawal Agreement now represents the only politically practicable and available means of securing our exit from the European Union,” he said.
Labour is set to vote against the deal tomorrow. Keir Starmer, the shadow Brexit secretary, said May had “failed to deliver”.
“This is a long way from the significant and legally effective commitment the prime minister promised last month. It is a reiteration of the EU’s existing position. Once again, nothing has changed,” he added.