THERESA May has said she is seeking “changes” to the backstop in her Brexit deal, rather than its total removal.

In a speech in Belfast yesterday, the Prime Minister restated her “unshakeable” commitment to avoiding a hard border in Ireland after Brexit, pledging: “The UK Government will not let that happen. I will not let that happen.”

But asked how she could convince the people of Northern Ireland to accept a Brexit deal which was stripped of the backstop, she said: “I’m not proposing to persuade people to accept a deal that doesn’t contain that insurance policy for the future. What Parliament has said is that they believe there should be changes made to the backstop.”

She insisted it was in that light she was working with MPs, the Irish government and the EU to find a way to meet the commitment to take the UK out of the EU on March 29 with a deal which avoided a hard border.

May acknowledged the importance of a seamless border and how the current arrangements had helped “deliver peace and prosperity”.

She said: “While I have said that technology could play a part and that we will look at alternative arrangements, these must be ones that can be made to work for the particular circumstances of Northern Ireland.”

May added: “Northern Ireland does not have to rely on the Irish government or the European Union to prevent a return to borders of the past. The UK Government will not let that happen. I will not let that happen.”

There was immediate concern from Conservative Brexiteers who want the backstop dropped. May wants their support to get her deal in the Commons.

A source from the European Research Group of Eurosceptic Tory MPs told the Press Association: “Even if she doesn’t mean what she said, we still do.”

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May will today hold talks with Northern Ireland’s political leaders including DUP leader Arlene Foster, who has promised to tell May the proposed border backstop “drives a coach and horses through the Belfast Agreement’s principle of consent” and would create a new border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.

The National: Sinn Fein deputy leader Michelle O’Neill hit out at the PMSinn Fein deputy leader Michelle O’Neill hit out at the PM

But there was also criticism from other political parties in Northern Ireland who favour the backstop and say changing it will breach the Good Friday Agreement which requires an open border.

Sinn Fein deputy leader Michelle O’Neill accused the Prime Minister of a “dangerous political U-turn” over her stance on the backstop.

“Only the legally binding backstop can guarantee certainty, prevent a hard border and protect the Good Friday Agreement framework. We told Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer this yesterday and we will tell Theresa May that tomorrow. The DUP do not speak for the people of the north of Ireland – and are doing a huge disservice to our people, businesses, farming industry and key sectors of the economy by misrepresenting our interests,” she said.

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Alliance party deputy leader Stephen Farry added: “The Prime Minister can keep stressing her commitment to the Good Friday Agreement and to avoiding a hard border, but unless she has a coherent and realistic plan those warm words don’t amount to much.”

May is due to travel to Brussels tomorrow for her first face-to-face talks with European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker since the withdrawal agreement they reached last November was rejected by the Commons. She will seek to secure changes which can persuade MPs to support her deal in a series of votes expected on February 14. MPs voted last week for an amendment tabled by Sir Graham Brady and backed by the Prime Minister which “requires the Northern Ireland backstop to be replaced with alternative arrangements to avoid a hard border”.