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British Prime Minister Theresa May delivers a keynote speech at the Waterfront Hall on July 20, 2018 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Photo: Charles McQuillan/WPA Pool via Getty Images

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May ruled out the prospect of Northern Ireland remaining in the EU's shared "customs union" and "single market" during a speech in Belfast on Friday, reports BBC News.

Why it matters: The "backstop" arrangement to avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland is a key part of Brexit negotiations proposed by the EU. On an island where peace and borders are inextricably linked, the vulnerable prime minister is staring down some high-stakes Brexit complications.

The backdrop: The EU's status as a customs union with a single market defines all qualifying countries as one territory without internal borders, allowing for the free flow of people, goods and services without regulatory obstacles.

  • This special status played an important role during the Northern Ireland peace process of the 1990s, WashPost's Henry Farrell writes, as it eliminated the need for border controls and promoted integration between Northern Ireland and the Republic without the delicate implication of political unity.

Before Brexit negotiations began, the EU and the Republic of Ireland agreed to a "backstop" compromise under which Northern Ireland would remain in the single market and customs union in the event that a better arrangement could not be reached. Facing pressure from pro-Brexit hardliners, May has now ruled that option out.

"The economic and constitutional dislocation of a formal 'third country' customs border within our own country is something I will never accept and believe no British prime minister could ever accept".
— Prime Minister Theresa May

The big picture: The hardliners are forcing May's hand and pressuring her to adopt a tougher stance on the Irish border, against the wishes of the EU and republicans in Northern Ireland. In her speech on Friday, May called on the EU to "evolve their position" as negotiations continue, with the growing threat of a "no deal" Brexit looming overhead.

What to watch: As Brexit talks whip up a storm at the highest levels of government, the emergence of new dissident groups in Northern Ireland, including one that calls itself the "New IRA," is causing some of the country's worst outbreaks of violence in years, reports The Economist.

Go deeper: Theresa May will need a break from Brussels on Brexit.

Go deeper

12 mins ago - Health

The floodgates have opened for vaccine mandates

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

State governments, private businesses and even part of the federal government are suddenly embracing mandatory coronavirus vaccinations for their employees.

Why it matters: Vaccine mandates have been relatively uncommon in the U.S. But with vaccination rates stagnating and the Delta variant driving yet another wave of cases, there's been a new groundswell of support for such requirements.

Ina Fried, author of Login
12 mins ago - Sports

Axios at the Olympics: Softball on the brink

Cat Osterman, pitching here against Japan on Monday, came out of retirement to play in the Tokyo Olympics. Photo: ina Fried

TOKYO – When the U.S. and Japan take the field in Yokohama on Tuesday, they are playing for more than just a gold medal. As badly as both teams want to win, they also want to show the world their sport deserves a permanent place in the Olympics.

Why it matters: Softball is returning to the Olympics after a 12-year absence, but its long-term Olympic future is uncertain, with the sport not part of the 2024 Games in Paris and plans up in the air after that.

Updated 36 mins ago - Sports

Naomi Osaka eliminated from Olympic Games tennis tournament

Czech 42nd-ranked Marketa Vondrousova (L) shakes hands with Japan's Naomi Osaka after their Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games women's singles third round tennis match at the Ariake Tennis Park in Tokyo on Tuesday. Photo: Giuseppe Cacace/AFP via Getty Images

Naomi Osaka was eliminated from the Olympics Games after losing her Tokyo tennis tournament match 6-1, 6-4 in the third round to Czech Marketa Vondrousova on Tuesday.

Of note: Japan's Osaka is the women's world No. 2, while is Vondrousova ranked No.42.

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