BRITISH Prime Minister Theresa May has made an "unshakeable" commitment to securing a Brexit deal that rules out a hard border on the island of Ireland.
In a speech in Belfast, the 62-year-old vowed to protect the Good Friday Agreement and said she was "not proposing" any replacement of the contentious Irish backstop arrangement in her EU withdrawal plans.
Brussels has consistently demanded the backstop as an insurance policy to ensure the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic remains regardless of future UK/EU relations.
Critics of the backstop argue its lack of any agreed time-limit is unacceptable as it could see the UK locked into a customs union deal with the EU indefinitely and Northern Ireland kept under EU single market rules.
Mrs May has previously insisted that "alternative arrangements" to the Irish backstop were under her consideration after her previous Withdrawal Agreement was roundly rejected by Parliament.
But speaking to an audience of business leaders and journalists on Tuesday, the PM said she wanted to "affirm my commitment to delivering a Brexit that ensures no return to a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, which is unshakeable".
She added: "I'm here today to affirm my commitment, and that of the UK Government, to all of the people of Northern Ireland, of every background and tradition.
"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."
Mrs May also promised to "work closely with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and the Irish Government to strengthen the bilateral relationship we have built" between Britain and Ireland.
She admitted that while she had worked tirelessly to make the case for her Withdrawal Agreement, she'd had to accept it would not get through the House of Commons in its present form.
"I fought hard to make the case for the deal as it stands. I believed it could command a majority in the Commons but I have had to face up to the fact that in its current form it cannot and the need for changes to the backstop is the key issue," she said.
"While there were those in Northern Ireland who favoured it, it is also true that the backstop is not supported by the two main Unionist parties here and it also influenced MPs in England, Scotland and Wales in voting against the deal."
Mrs May also acknowledged the importance of a seamless border and how current arrangements under the 1998 Agreement had helped "deliver peace and prosperity".
Asked how she could convince the people of Northern Ireland to accept a Brexit deal without a backstop, she added: "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 changes made to the backstop."