Brexit: EU says no to May on renegotiating deal





Jean-Claude Juncker with Theresa MayImage copyright
AFP

European Union leaders have said the Brexit withdrawal agreement isnot open for renegotiation”, despite appeals from Theresa May.

She wanted legal assurances on the Irish backstop to help her deal get through Parliament, after she delayed a Commons vote in anticipation of defeat.

The PM said the deal wasat riskif MPsconcerns could not be addressed.

European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker said there could be clarifications but no renegotiation.

He urged the UK to set out more clearly what it wants, adding that the commission will publish information on 19 December on its preparations for a no-deal Brexit.

Mrs May returned to Brussels for a summit with EU leaders on Thursday, at the end of a week that has seen her first delay the vote on the withdrawal agreement in Parliament, then win a vote of confidence brought by MPs unhappy with it.

She vowed to listen to the concerns of the 37% of Tory MPs who voted against her and was hoping toassuagetheir concerns about the controversialbackstopplan in the agreement.

Critics say the backstopaimed at preventing a hard border in Northern Irelandwould keep the UK tied to EU rules indefinitely and curb its ability to strike trade deals.

Conservative MPs demanded changes to the backstop to make it clear that it could not last forever, and the UK could terminate the arrangement on its own.

At the summit, Mrs May was seeking legal assurances that the backstop, if used, would be temporary.

The BBC’s political editor Laura Kuenssberg said one of the ideas being considered in Brussels was whether they could agree astart datefor a future trade relationship between the UK and the EU after Brexit instead of an end date for the backstop.

If this meeting in Brussels was meant to provide Theresa May with the beginnings of an escape route from her Brexit conundrum, the signs are not good.

At one of her most vulnerable political moments Number 10 was hopeful at least of an indication of a potential solution to the most intense of a long list of Brexit problemsthe controversial so-called backstop designed to guarantee against a hard Irish border.

But right now, that’s simply not on offer.

EU leaders made plain their warnings that their divorce deal with Britain was not up for negotiation were real.

Requests for change to ease the Westminster politics were not fulfilled, with key phrases from a more accommodating draft gone by midnight.

But the rejection gives succour perhaps to those in government who want their critics to accept that the prime minister’s deal may be genuinely, as good as it gets.

In comments released by Downing Street on Thursday, Mrs May told EU leaders she firmly believed the deal could get through the Commons and told them: “Let’s work together intensively to get this deal over the line in the best interests of all our people.

And she said it was in everyone’s interests for the deal to bedelivered in an orderly way and to get it done nowrather thanto run the risk of an accidental ‘no dealwith all the disruption that would bring or to allow this to drag on any further”.

There is a majority in my Parliament who want to leave with a deal so with the right assurances this deal can be passed. Indeed it is the only deal capable of getting through my Parliament,” she said.

Over the last two years, I hope that I have shown you that you can trust me to do what is right, not always what is easy, however difficult that might be for me politically.

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Mrs May urged EU leaders to work with her tochange the perceptionof the controversial backstop plan.

But European Council president Donald Tusk said the withdrawal agreement wasnot open for renegotiation”.

Speaking after the Brussels summit, Mr Tusk called the backstopan insurance policy,” saying it was the EU’sfirm determinationto workspeedilyon alternative arrangements.

Mr Tusk said the backstop wouldapply temporarily unless and until it is superseded by a subsequent agreement that ensures that the hard border is avoided”.

Image caption

Mrs May told EU leaders she firmly believed the deal could get through the Commons

Mr Juncker urged the UK to tell the EU what it wants in the future relationship.

Our UK friends need to say what they want, instead of asking us to say what we want and so we would like within a few weeks our UK friends to set out their expectations for us, because this debate is sometimes nebulous and imprecise and I would like clarifications,” he said.

The European Council’s conclusions on Brexitpublished on Thursday eveningsay the EU would use itsbest endeavours to negotiate and conclude expeditiously a subsequent agreement that would replace the backstop, and would expect the same of the United Kingdom, so that the backstop would only be in place for as long as strictly necessary”.

In other words, the EU would continue trying to negotiate a trade deal with the UK even if the Irish backstop had been triggered at the end of the transition period.

The Brexit withdrawal agreement only talks aboutbest endeavoursbeing used to reach an agreement during the transition period.

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, who holds the rotating EU presidency, suggested there could be a special Brexit summit in January to agreeadditional assurances”.

But Irish premier Leo Varadkar said that while EU was keen to behelpful”, some of the suggestions she had put forward weredifficultand warned there could be nounilateral exit clauseon the backstop.

Downing Street has confirmed that MPs will not now vote on Mrs May’s deal before Christmas and said the vote would happenas soon as possible in January”.






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