May in Brussels again, seeking Brexit movement

Ann Santiago
February 22, 2019

The Prime Minister spoke after flying to Brussels for talks on the legal assurances she believes she needs to secure parliamentary approval for her withdrawal agreement.

She will try to renegotiate the Irish backstop as well as request legally-binding assurances that the backstop will not extend indefinitely.

They spoke of a "parallel declaration" or "interpretative instrument" on the backstop, a day after May and the head of the European Union's executive, Jean-Claude Juncker, met in Brussels to seek a way out of the Brexit deadlock. We recognise that a no-deal Brexit would be a very bad outcome for the United Kingdom and we are doing everything we can to avoid that.

In a joint statement, Mrs May and Mr Juncker said future talks should be held in a "positive spirit" and committed to looking at "guarantees" that could be given on the "temporary nature" of the controversial Irish border backstop.

This legally enforceable text could give the United Kingdom a unilateral exit mechanism from the backstop, but with a long 12-month notice period, according to a senior official who asked not to be named.

People's Vote supporter and Labour MP Stephen Doughty said: "Brexiters promised that voting Leave would mean a bonanza of new global trade deals that would make up for lost trade with the EU".

The EU would reportedly be open to the idea because it would be a "technical extension" to give Parliament time to pass necessary legislation rather than simply allowing more time for negotiations.

'You will have seen that I have on the side of my face the outcome of an unfortunate slip this morning, ' he said.

But unless the United Kingdom can finalise a Withdrawal Agreement by March 29 allowing Britain to continue participating in European Union trade deals during a 21-month transition period, it will enjoy the benefits of the Japanese agreement for just 57 days.

Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay's Brussels talks have been hailed by the Government as "productive" after European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker delivered a pessimistic take on the EU withdrawal situation.

"If you can get to a place where the potential longevity of the backstop - the potential that the backstop lasts for ever - can be adequately dealt with, that's what we are all seeking to do", he said.

"We agreed to keep exploring the use of alternative arrangements - especially how they might be developed to ensure the absence of a hard border in Northern Ireland on a permanent footing, avoiding the need for the backstop to ever enter force".

"There may be an opportunity to bring a vote back to the House of Commons", he told the BBC.

"We are listening and working with the United Kingdom government ... for an orderly withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union on 29 March".

Meanwhile, Chancellor Philip Hammond described Brexit as "a large black cloud" hanging over the United Kingdom economy and said a no-deal departure would be "extremely bad" for Britain.

Attorney General Geoffrey Cox and Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay are also in Brussels on Wednesday for technical talks on the contentious backstop. The department said in an emailed statement that it's still "seeking continuity for existing free trade agreements".

Senior officials said the PM will be attending a two-day EU-League of Arab States summit in Sharm el Sheikh starting on Sunday but stressed they were not expecting any decisions relating to the Brexit negotiations.

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