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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

2 hours ago - World

U.S. will give Russians written response to NATO demands, Blinken says

Blinken and Lavrov shake hands in Geneva. Photo: Russian Foreign Ministry / Handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Secretary of State Antony Blinken confirmed after a meeting with his Russian counterpart on Friday that the U.S. will provide written answers to Russia's security demands next week.

Why it matters: Russia claims to be waiting for "concrete answers" to its demands that NATO rule out further expansion and roll back its presence in eastern Europe before deciding its next steps on Ukraine. But the U.S. and NATO have called those proposals "non-starters," and Friday's meeting offered no breakthroughs, so it's unclear how written answers might change the equation.

More surprises await scientists at Antarctica's "Doomsday Glacier"

Cliffs along the edge of the Thwaites Ice Shelf in West Antarctica. Photo: James Yungel/NASA

Researchers like David Holland, an atmospheric scientist at New York University, are in a race to understand the fate of a massive glacier in West Antarctica that has earned a disquieting nickname: "The Doomsday Glacier."

Why it matters: Studies show the Thwaites Glacier (its official name) could already be on an irreversible course to melt during the next several decades to centuries, freeing up enough inland ice to raise global sea levels by at least several feet.

Updated 4 hours ago - Health

The case for Operation Warp Speed 2.0

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Omicron's blitz around the world has underscored the need for a new arsenal of COVID vaccines and therapeutics, experts say — and that may require an effort akin to Operation Warp Speed 2.0.

Why it matters: The virus will continue to evolve, potentially in a way that further escapes vaccine protection, and the best way to prevent more global disruptions to everyday life is to have tools ready to combat whatever comes next.

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