May back in Brussels looking to EU leaders for Brexit concessions

Theresa May will head to Brussels on Thursday seeking assurances from EU leaders that the Irish backstop will not leave Britain stuck in the customs union indefinitely in a bid to make her Brexit deal palatable to Parliament.

UK Prime Minister Theresa May Source: Bloomberg

Theresa May will return to Brussels on Thursday where she will meet with EU27 leaders in a bid to secure greater clarification on the terms of her Brexit deal in hopes that it will be enough to convince MPs in the UK to support it when they return next week after the Christmas recess.

Above all, the UK prime minister will be looking for assurances from EU leaders like German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron that the Irish backstop will be time-limited and not leave Britain stuck in the customs union indefinitely.

‘Theresa May has been very clear: this isn’t just about words but about text which has legal force,’ UK foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt said on Wednesday. ‘The EU has agreed the backstop is temporary, and that’s a word they have agreed.’

‘What we’re saying, very simply, is we’re not asking for anything new, but we are asking you to define what ‘temporary’ means,’ he added.

Can May make her deal palatable to Parliament?

May is hoping that by securing such assurances, particularly on the controversial Irish backstop, that she will garner enough support to drag her beleaguered Brexit deal over the finish line ahead of the the March 29 deadline and avoid the UK bailing out of the bloc without a deal.

But most MPs in Parliament have opposed her deal from the very beginning, which leaves May desperate to appease the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and clamouring to appeal to Conservative Eurosceptics.

May will be hoping that EU leaders can provide the clarity she requires on the Irish backstop ahead of the Brexit vote in Parliament, scheduled to be held in the week beginning January 14.

‘The best and only deal’

Since December last year, EU officials and have shown little interest in offering any concessions to May and in a press conference in Brussels on Wednesday morning EU Commission Spokeswoman Mina Andreeva reiterated its strong stance on Brexit.

‘We have said many times the deal that is on the table is the best and only deal possible,’ she said. ‘The EU27 leaders confirmed on December 13 in their conclusions that it will not be renegotiated.’

She did add that EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker is ‘always willing to listen to May’s views on the backstop’ but made it clear that Brussels has no intention of altering the text of the deal.

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