Former Northern Ireland first minister Lord Trimble said he is considering a legal challenge to the backstop elements of the EU Withdrawal Agreement over concerns about its impact on the Good Friday Agreement.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "We are exploring this possibility and we are concerned at the way in which the Withdrawal Agreement that our Prime Minister agreed actually turns the Belfast Agreement on its head and does serious damage to it."

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With the backstop aimed at preventing the return of a hard border in Ireland, Lord Trimble stated: "The problem here is nobody has ever defined what a soft border is or a hard border is."


DUP leader Arlene Foster said she would again stress to Theresa May her party's opposition to the backstop during the PM's visit to Northern Ireland.

Mrs Foster told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "We will be reiterating our opposition to the current backstop. And the fact that Parliament has now backed that position means that she (Mrs May) has a clear mandate to go back to Brussels.

"Parliament's mandate is to replace the backstop. The current backstop, as I have said all along, is toxic to those of us living in Northern Ireland, and indeed for unionists right across the United Kingdom, because it would cause the break-up of the United Kingdom into the medium and longer term."

The DUP leader said: "Nobody wants to see a hard border on the island of Ireland.
"But, it cannot be at the expense of a hard border internally in the United Kingdom because that is simply not acceptable."

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When it was put to Mrs Foster that her stance on the backstop could force a no-deal Brexit, she said: "Well actually, I could reverse that... by saying through the intransigence of the European Union and the Republic of Ireland in their attitude, they are actually more likely to bring about the very thing that they want to avoid."

Labour MP Anna McMorrin, a supporter of the People's Vote campaign for a second referendum, said: "Backstop or no backstop, the Brexit deal is still bad news for Northern Ireland and that should not be forgotten.

"Backstop or no backstop, the deal would damage the economy of Northern Ireland. Manufacturers in Northern Ireland sell £10.5 billion of goods to Great Britain every year and it has long been known that if Great Britain gets an economic cough, Northern Ireland goes down with the flu.

"Backstop or no backstop, the deal threatens to weaken security in Northern Ireland. While the focus is on dissident republicans or loyalist organised crime, Northern Ireland is just as vulnerable as any other part of the UK to other terrorist or serious criminal threats, and the deal leaves the UK with no guarantees on further security co-operation and access to key EU crime fighting databases.

"Backstop or no backstop, the deal will deepen divides in Northern Ireland. Today, whether a resident of Northern Ireland holds an Irish or a British passport makes no difference to their rights and their status. That is the very foundational principle of the Good Friday Agreement. Backstop or no backstop, that will change after Brexit."

Margaritis Schinas also said that Mr Juncker will meet Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar in Brussels on Wednesday.

Asked if Theresa May would present an alternative to the backstop at her meeting with Jean-Claude Juncker, Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas said: "Let's see how the meeting develops on Thursday."

He added the backstop was a "central piece" of the Withdrawal Agreement and of "fundamental importance" to addressing the issues around the Irish border.

Hauliers from EU states will continue to be able to operate in the UK for at least nine months if there is a no-deal Brexit.

Transport Minister Jesse Norman told MPs: "Over 80% of haulage between the UK and continental Europe is undertaken by EU hauliers and it is important to ensure that the UK's supply chains are protected.

"The UK needs to be sure that foreign products can be imported and UK products exported as usual.

"Our approach of offering access at this stage aims both to provide the reassurance needed for international freight flows to continue, and also to help ensure reciprocal arrangements for UK hauliers."

The European Commission has set out plans to allow UK lorries to operate in the EU for nine months after Brexit if there is no deal, based on Britain allowing reciprocal access.

Mr Norman said draft secondary legislation being laid in Parliament meets that condition.

Theresa May told the weekly meeting of the Cabinet in Downing Street that her objective now was to secure a legally-binding assurance the UK could not remain trapped in the backstop indefinitely.

"The Cabinet agreed that it was a positive that for the first time Parliament had indicated that it could support the Withdrawal Agreement subject to changes to the backstop," the Prime Minister's official spokesman said.

"The Prime Minister said that our objective now was to secure a legally-binding way of of guaranteeing we cannot be trapped indefinitely in the backstop."