Archive for the ‘Borders’ Category

Jeremy Hunt’s Brexit test — it won’t be as bad as Remainers fear

The test of a successful Brexit will be if, in a decade’s time, the 48 percent who voted for Remain feel that the outcome was not “as bad as I feared and the U.K. is flourishing,” according to U.K. Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt.

Speaking to POLITICO’s EU Confidential podcast, Hunt said it is vital that the talks lead to a quick deal. “It’s massively in everyone’s interest to get back to stability,” he said, adding that he hopes negotiations between London and Brussels would yield a revised deal “in the next few days.”

U.K. ministers are currently trying to renegotiate the Brexit deal that was rejected by a historic margin by MPs last month. A quick resolution is necessary, Hunt said, “for the sake of sanity of the population of Britain and indeed of Europe.”

But the foreign secretary, who voted Remain in the 2016 Brexit referendum, said he has set a longer-term test for a successful Brexit. “Success will be if in 10 years’ time people who voted against Brexit, people in that 48 percent, are able to say, ‘you know what, it hasn’t been as bad as I feared and the U.K. is flourishing.’” he said.

“We have to show them the Brexit that we’re going to deliver, delivers on the letter and spirit of the referendum, but is not the Brexit of their worst nightmares. It’s not a Brexit where we pull up the drawbridge, where thousands of jobs are lost, and turn ourselves from Great Britain into Little Britain,” he said.

“If you’ve got big investments in Britain, they’re going to be amongst the part of the world that give you the best returns in the years ahead” — U.K. Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt

He said he believes “there is an end in sight” for getting a parliamentary majority behind Theresa May’s deal, based on the hard-line Brexiteers on the Conservative backbenches agreeing to a compromise on the Northern Ireland backstop.

This would need to be “definitely more than a clarification” but not a rewriting of the Withdrawal Agreement, Hunt said.

The EU has repeatedly said the Irish backstop arrangement is not open to renegotiation.

‘Profoundly wrong’

Hunt said it would be “profoundly wrong” to put the Brexit question to voters again in a second referendum. He said the British people “know that the political establishment did not want Brexit,” and “they are looking at Brexit as a kind of test of our democratic credentials. Are we really a democracy in this country?”

Asked about the news that Honda has plans to close its manufacturing plant in Swindon and move production to Japan, Hunt suggested there are other factors behind the move besides Brexit.

U.K. Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt | John Thys/AFP via Getty Images

“I think what we are seeing is that there’s economic uncertainty that’s not related to Brexit,” he said. And he denied that the U.K. is currently in a weak position and vulnerable to pressure from governments or multinational companies. “Of course we will hold the line. What I would say to all those companies is: think long term. Britain has the most extraordinary prospects in the future,” he said.

“If you’ve got big investments in Britain, they’re going to be amongst the part of the world that give you the best returns in the years ahead,” Hunt said.

Hunt leapt on divisions in the Labour Party to say that the opposition could not be relied upon to help deliver Brexit. On Monday, seven Labour MPs resigned in part over the leadership’s stance on Brexit.

“Labour is divided between fanatical Remainers” and “people representing Leave-voting constituencies,” he said. “If you were to imagine a Jeremy Corbyn government: Ask yourself how would he reconcile those two positions? The answer is you can’t.”

Hunt claimed the Conservative Party, while divided, is capable of uniting around “a moderate Euroskeptic position.”

This article is part of POLITICO’s premium Brexit service for professionals: Brexit Pro. To test our our expert policy coverage of the implications and next steps per industry, email [email protected] for a complimentary trial.


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Theresa May sets course for Brexit disaster

LONDON — The emergency sirens are whirring for a no-deal Brexit — only this time it’s not a drill.

In European capitals there is now mounting alarm that Theresa May has set Britain on course for a diplomatic disaster, by fundamentally misjudging how far EU leaders are prepared to bend at the last minute in their summit just a week before Britain’s EU departure date.

A month after suffering the biggest parliamentary defeat in British history, May is doubling down on her strategy of winning her Brexiteer backbenchers and the Democratic Unionist Party over to supporting her deal by securing legally binding changes to the Withdrawal Agreement she finalized with the EU in November. Her ministers have made diplomatic forays to Brussels, Strasbourg, Paris and Dublin in recent days and May herself has spoken to the leaders of Germany, Portugal, Austria and Sweden. Next week, she will be back in Brussels for talks with Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.

Despite yet another defeat in the House of Commons Thursday — albeit on a symbolic motion — the strategy remains the same. “The government’s position remains to resolve the issues of the backstop and then come back to parliament with a fresh meaningful vote,” Leader of the House Andrea Leadsom told the BBC Friday.

“No news is not always good news” — Donald Tusk

But there is skepticism in Brussels about the substance of the current diplomatic flurry. “There are no real talks going on. It’s more May speaking to capitals, testing the water and trying to give the impression to her people at home that there are actual talks to gain some time,” said one EU diplomat. “There’s nothing on the table yet, we still hope to see it at least in March.”

“No news is not always good news,” tweeted Council President Donald Tusk, “EU27 still waiting for concrete, realistic proposals from London.”

Senior EU27 officials say May has failed to narrow her Brexit demands to a “single constructive proposal” to find a way through the impasse over the Irish border.

One minister from a major EU power was left so shocked after a meeting with a U.K. counterpart last week they concluded Britain is now hell-bent on pushing the crisis to the wire in the hope of a last-minute concession from EU leaders, which will not materialize.

The view is shared by some senior members of the U.K. Cabinet, who fear the PM is heading for a repeat of the diplomatic disaster at the EU leaders’ summit in Salzburg last September. At that meeting she miscalculated the EU’s willingness to engage with her proposed Chequers “compromise” offer, leaving her politically humiliated amid mocking headlines and recriminations in Westminster.

Senior EU27 officials say May has failed to narrow her Brexit demands to a “single constructive proposal” | Pool photo Kirsty Wigglesworth/Getty Images

‘Something big’

One EU official said the idea that “something big” would emerge at the last-gasp summit in Brussels is just as misplaced. “The idea that you can just leave it until the last minute is crazy,” the official said. “You’re really into too-little-too-late territory. The work has to be done way before then.”

A second senior official from an EU27 member state confirmed EU capitals are increasingly concerned May is misreading the situation and heading for calamity. “Yes, there are growing worries,” the top-level official said.

Two senior EU figures — one official and one minister from a major EU power — said May’s only chance of a breakthrough at the March summit is if she narrows her demands to a single concrete proposal plus a “technical extension” to Article 50 before EU leaders meet on March 21. Neither see any chance of the Withdrawal Agreement being reopened. Three U.K. government ministers — including two in the Cabinet — agreed with this assessment.

With no sign of a breakthrough, the uneasy political truce in Westminster — designed to give May one last chance to win a concession from Brussels — is beginning to fray amid growing panic from government ministers opposed to a no-deal exit.

One Cabinet minister said March 22 is “way too late” for a sizeable number of ministers, who would resign to force the issue before then. “[The beginning of] March is the deadline really,” the Cabinet minister said. “It can’t go later than that.”

A second Cabinet minister fiercely opposed to a no-deal Brexit said May needs to come back with evidence that her strategy to wring a significant concession out of the EU is working before the next parliamentary battle on February 27.

“It has to be now. This can’t hold much longer” — Minister

A third government minister involved in the so-called “Malthouse compromise” (agreed among Tory MPs to replace the backstop with unspecified “alternative arrangements”) said May is quickly running out of time and needs to make an offer to Brussels within days.

“It has to be now,” the minister said. “This can’t hold much longer.”

The minister from a major power said they were shocked to hear from a U.K. counterpart that London is apparently intent on dragging things out until March 21. At that point, May would bring a menu of three or four ideas for changing the backstop from which EU leaders would be invited to choose. If they reject all of them, she would blame EU intransigence for the ensuing chaos.

More time

Among U.K. Cabinet ministers, diplomats and senior EU officials, speculation is growing about a short technical extension of the Article 50 exit period, which could be agreed in principle in early March to create the space for a showdown at the summit in Brussels later that month.

This would give the U.K. and EU time to implement whatever was agreed at the summit — or put in place the last-minute preparations for no-deal.

In this scenario, the March meeting of EU leaders would agree the final Brexit package while also officially signing off a short exit delay to allow the U.K. parliament to push through the agreement before British local elections on May 2.

However, senior EU27 officials and British Cabinet ministers are privately voicing fears that the U.K. prime minister is still misreading the extent of what is possible at the final summit.

This fear is not confined to European capitals. One senior Conservative MP said the PM is walking into the same trap she set for herself at the Salzburg meeting, and that colleagues have learned the wrong lesson from the euro crisis and the EU’s treatment of Greece.

“That was the last time the U.K. thought it could all be sorted out politically” — Adviser

“There’s a constant theme here,” the MP said. “Every single Brexiteer says the same thing — ‘the EU bailed out the Greeks, they will move at the death.’ But, no, they f**king didn’t move for the Greeks. The Greeks got an even worse deal. There’s a real danger here that we are going to walk into the room with the same demands and get the same result.”

One adviser to an EU leader said there is a danger that London would repeat the miscalculation they made at Salzburg — that political leaders would step in and offer concessions.

“It was a big misunderstanding. They seemed to think this was the moment it would be taken out of the hands of [Michel] Barnier and become a political negotiation — that it was a unique moment, a unique solution. That was the last time the U.K. thought it could all be sorted out politically,” the adviser said.

The reality was very different. And if the same happens again there will be no time to rectify the crisis before the U.K. crashes out with no deal.


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EU patience with Theresa May wears thin

It may not be the perception in London, but EU leaders feel they’ve bent over backwards to help the U.K. prime minister deliver an orderly Brexit.

They won’t be doing that anymore.

Theresa May’s failure to get the Brexit deal through parliament — and her continued failure to build a national consensus around a plan for the U.K.’s future — has led her EU colleagues to conclude they can no longer rely on her.

The idea that the likes of Angela Merkel, Emmanuel Macron and Donald Tusk have been great allies of the U.K. prime minister may sound preposterous in London — even to May herself. But whatever assistance they offered May to guard against a Brexit ideologue taking her place appears now to be drying up.

In recent days, European Council President Donald Tusk and the bloc’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, have publicly praised a plan put forward by May’s opposite number, Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, that would keep Britain inside the EU’s customs union.

Those remarks, by Tusk directly to May in a face-to-face meeting last week, and by Barnier at a news conference on Monday in Luxembourg (he dubbed Corbyn’s intervention “interesting in tone and in content”), showed the EU is no longer willing to defer to May’s handling of Brexit. It underscored how frustration with her has grown so deep in Brussels that EU officials no longer see a big risk in wading directly into the U.K.’s volatile domestic political debate.

EU negotiators have moved with uncharacteristic speed to publicly torpedo British ideas they regard as false or magical thinking.

The European Parliament’s Brexit coordinator Guy Verhofstadt was the most explicit in endorsing cross-party dialogue in Westminster. “I hope that such cross-party cooperation will now lead to a new proposal, further proposals by the British sides,” he said in Strasbourg Tuesday, while denouncing “irresponsible” hard-liners for trying to prevent such cooperation.

“In my opinion, it would surprise me that a country that has shown so much political creativity in its long history would not be able to overcome these differences,” he added.

Rapid rebuttal

In addition to the praise for Corbyn’s customs union idea — which May poured cold water on in a letter to the Labour leader on Sunday — EU negotiators have moved with uncharacteristic speed and force to publicly torpedo ideas on the British side that they regard as either false or representing magical thinking.

The EU’s deputy negotiator, Sabine Weyand, has used Twitter to debunk assertions by pro-Brexit U.K. officials or to clarify facts as Brussels sees them. “Can technology solve the Irish border problem?” she asked when May embarked on her attempt to renegotiate the Northern Ireland backstop even before she had officially put the idea to EU officials in Brussels. “Short answer: not in the next few years,” was Weyand’s conclusion.

Deputy Brexit negotiator Sabine Weyand | European Union

The EU has long signaled that it would prefer a “softer” Brexit of the type that is inherent in Corbyn’s proposal. But they are wary of him too. “He’s dealing with a party as divided as the Tories,” a senior diplomat complained. “He’s another one who seems more interested in his party than in Brexit,” said another diplomat.

Rather than boosting the Labour leader as a potential occupant of No.10 Downing Street, EU officials seem intent on encouraging a consensus to emerge in Britain. That could be a cross-party majority for Corbyn’s customs union plan (something that U.K. officials point out the House of Commons has already rejected) or a Tory majority for May’s original proposal spurred on by anger at Brussels for courting Labour.

Whatever the true goal, an EU official said Brussels is experiencing “Brexit fatigue” and that support for May has reached a new low.

EU leaders are still eager to avoid a no-deal outcome though, and are intent on showing May the deference due her office — evidenced by the willingness of Tusk and Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker to meet her face-to-face in Brussels last week.

In doing so, they went against objections from Dublin, which had questioned the point of the exercise with May offering nothing new, according to a diplomat briefed on the back and forth.

Nonetheless, EU leaders’ loss of faith in May is a sharp reversal from the days when they viewed her as a pragmatic Remainer who, with Tory Brexiteers circling, was their best chance for a reasonable Brexit deal.

“Many times we have asked her to reach out to the opposition but every time she put her party first and her country second” — EU27 diplomat

Back in December 2017, she even received a round of applause from her fellow leaders at the European Council summit after she successfully cleared the hurdle of the first phase of Brexit talks.

The applause has long since faded and the relationship started to unravel significantly in September when frustrations with her broke into the open at informal leaders’ summit in Salzburg, Austria.

After a carefully coordinated run-up to the summit where EU capitals had avoided complicating May’s position at her party’s annual conference, leaders were irritated by what they saw as her combative tone in an op-ed for German newspaper Die Welt in which she denounced “unacceptable” demands from the EU.

That drew an uncompromising response at the summit from Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron as well as Tusk, prompting headlines in the U.K. press that May had been “humiliated.”

Turning point

The relationship recovered sufficiently in October and November to produce the Withdrawal Agreement itself, but May’s decision to postpone the ratification vote in the House of Commons on December 11 prompted dismay in Brussels and beyond.

Apart from the five-week delay it introduced, leaders and their diplomats were irritated because London had insisted on calling a special European Council summit on a Sunday in November. Downing Street wanted the media hit of rapid approval for the deal by EU leaders ahead of the December vote that, in the end, never happened.

Consequently, leaders found themselves dealing with Brexit at the scheduled December summit that was supposed to be devoted to other pressing issues.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker receives Theresa May | Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos via Getty Images

“The December summit was a turning point,” said an EU27 diplomat. May was unable to say what was required to secure her parliament’s backing. She evidently needed and wanted leaders to renegotiate the deal but could not or would not say so.

In the room, Macron and the other leaders expressed their disappointment, while Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte tried to act as mediator, an EU official said. “Often she was so confused that many leaders got even more upset,” the senior diplomat said.

Other comments by May have caused offense at key times in the process. “When I heard her saying that Europeans jump the queues or that her problem is that Westminster doesn’t trust the EU, I was left wondering where is the difference with what [former Foreign Secretary and prominent Brexiteer] Boris Johnson would have said,” said a senior diplomat of a speech May delivered on immigration in November.

And EU officials watched as May moved after the rejection by parliament to tear up the backstop plan her own negotiators had proposed in the fall as an alternative to Brussels’ version.

They have grown increasingly exasperated at May’s refusal to reach across party lines, and build the consensus needed not just to ratify the Withdrawal Agreement but also to negotiate the future trade relationship — something that will likely prove even harder and more controversial.

“Many times we have asked her to reach out to the opposition but every time she put her party first and her country second,” said another EU27 diplomat.


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We’re not ‘purist’ about changing Brexit deal, says UK minister

The U.K. government is not “purist” about how to change the Brexit deal with Brussels to make it acceptable to MPs, the Leader of the House of Commons Andrea Leadsom said.

Her comments suggest the government has backed away from Theresa May’s insistence that changing the controversial Northern Ireland backstop must mean legal changes to the Withdrawal Agreement that was struck with the EU in November.

When the prime minister embarked on her renegotiation with Brussels two weeks ago, her official spokesperson said that, “in order to win the support of the House of Commons, legal changes to the backstop will be required. That will mean reopening the Withdrawal Agreement,” the spokesperson said.

But Leadsom, a leading Brexiteer in the Cabinet, told the BBC’s Today Program Tuesday that such a renegotiation of the 585-page document may not be necessary. “The point is to ensure that the U.K. cannot be held in a backstop [the guarantee there won’t be a return to a hard border in Northern Ireland] permanently. How it’s achieved is not something to be purist about,” she said. “I wouldn’t speculate on what exactly the outcome needs to be.”

EU leaders have consistently said they are willing to look again at the Political Declaration, but will not countenance a renegotiation of the Withdrawal Agreement.

Leadsom denied that the government was deliberately delaying giving MPs another vote on the deal as time runs out before the U.K. is due to leave the EU on March 29.

“No, it’s not running down the clock.” she said. “What the prime minister is doing is … working to find a solution so parliament can support her deal.”

Leadsom said MPs would have the chance for another ‘meaningful’ vote on the Brexit deal “just as soon as we are able to demonstrate that we have met the terms of parliament’s instructions that the backstop needed to be time-limited or alternative arrangements found,” she said.

But she would not rule out the possibility that such a vote would happen after a summit of EU leaders scheduled for March 21, just days before the U.K.’s scheduled departure on 29 March.’ “It is a negotiation, it’s not possible to predict the future, but the meaningful vote will come back to parliament as soon as the issue around the backstop has been sorted out,” Leadsom said.

Asked three times if she would resign from the government if May compromised on Britain remaining in a customs union with the EU — as the opposition Labour party is demanding — Leadsom declined to say, but added: “I am staying in the government, in Cabinet, to support the prime minister in delivering on the referendum.”

Leadsom said she was also “confident” that all the necessary Brexit-related legislation would be passed through parliament by the end of March.

The Brexit prisoner’s dilemma

LONDON — It’s crunch time for the Tory moderates.

Inside the U.K. Cabinet, those most fiercely opposed to a no-deal Brexit return to their constituencies this weekend wrestling with the biggest dilemma of their political lives: How long to give Theresa May before triggering the emergency escape hatch?

Jump too soon, by resigning to join a parliamentary rebellion against no-deal, and risk scuppering the prime minister’s negotiation with Brussels at its most crucial stage. But wait too long and it may be too late. Worse still, they will have abandoned their post at a time of national emergency.

The moderates’ dilemma was set up on January 16 when the Brexit deal was comprehensively defeated in the House of Commons, by 432 votes to 202. With a steep uphill battle to flip enough votes, May has opted to double down on her strategy of winning back the Brexiteers.

Her trip to Brussels Thursday aimed to renegotiate the contentious Northern Ireland backstop — something that officials in Brussels are adamant cannot happen but which May insists is the only route to a negotiated exit.

British Prime Minister Theresa May is welcomed by European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker | Aris Oikonomou/AFP via Getty Images

With the Brussels talks deadlocked, the government and the country drifts ever closer toward no deal.

“There’s a window before it’s too late,” one Cabinet minister explained. “We can’t wait for March 28. We don’t want to go too early, but we need a plan [from the government].”

An official close to a second Cabinet minister agreed. “That’s the dilemma. There’s no obvious answer. If you are committed to stopping no deal, do you fight until a minute to midnight? Or is this too late? What you don’t want to do is go too early, only for Article 50 to be extended and then the timeline shifts completely.”

Last-minute promise

May kept the show on the road at the last major parliamentary confrontation last week. MPs backed away from voting for an amendment that would have given parliament a mechanism to actually prevent a no-deal Brexit on March 29. Many Tories who are concerned about no-deal were won round by a last-minute promise from the prime minister to offer a further chance to vote on such a plan next week.

But anti-no dealers may decide that even that is not the last chance saloon.

In Brussels Thursday, the prime minister obtained the flimsiest of diplomatic covers to delay this moment of truth a little while longer, taking Britain even closer to the cliff edge. After “robust but constructive” talks with Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, a joint statement released on their behalf promised further negotiations over the next three weeks in an apparently last-ditch effort to find a solution.

The statement bought time — but with it a new deadline beyond which those lined up against no-deal say they will no longer accept drift.

By promising a second bilateral meeting with Juncker by the end of the month, May now has three weeks to engineer a diplomatic breakthrough or face the real prospect of a political implosion at home with Cabinet resignations and parliamentary moves to wrestle control from the government, MPs, ministers and officials said.

One senior Tory aide suggested a first “wave” of ministers below Cabinet level could quit in a “warning shot” before the big beasts of the party resign.

The problem is, no one wants to move first.

Anti-Brexit placards are set up outside the Houses of Parliament | Tolga Akmen/AFP via Getty Images

The government’s anti-no dealers are prisoners in their own Brexit dilemma. The more rationally they act — by working for compromise with their hard-line colleagues — the more likely they are to accidentally facilitate a no-deal.

“The problem is there’s an asymmetry,” the Cabinet minister explained. “The [European Research Group of backbench Brexiteers] are just crazier. We are moderates by inclination, which puts us at a disadvantage.”

The original prisoner dilemma, developed during the Cold War, illustrates why two rational prisoners will not cooperate to reduce their sentences, even when it is in their best interests to do so. The Brexit version is now playing out across parliament.

To avoid a no-deal, various factions of MPs lined up against it simply have to put aside their immediate political self-interest to cooperate. But to cooperate involves taking a major political risk which could backfire: What if your opponent doesn’t cooperate, leaving you exposed, taking all the flak for blocking Brexit?

For the most hard-line Brexiteers, no such dilemma exists: for them, no-deal is fine. They don’t accept the costs will be as high as the government and most independent experts claim (hence the cries of “Project Fear”) and they see big benefits in the medium to long term.

The dilemma is causing mounting consternation across government.

One leading Conservative MP involved in efforts to find a breakthrough compromise said: “Yes, this is the problem, but it’s worse than that. The prisoner’s dilemma involves just two people. This is a meta prisoner’s dilemma. It involves a whole load of different groups of MPs, all with different interests.”

Britain’s Business Secretary Greg Clark is one of those opposed to no deal | Adrian Dennis/AFP via Getty Images

The Cabinet minister said the question for those opposed to leaving without a deal is how to judge when no-deal had become the de facto policy of the government without ever being formally endorsed.

The end of February may now prove to be that moment.

If February tips into March with no breakthrough, anti-no deal ministers will be forced to demand changes to the government’s strategy or resign, the Cabinet minister said.

At this point those in Cabinet opposed to no-deal — led by Business Secretary Greg Clark, Justice Secretary David Gauke and Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd — will demand moves to cooperate with Labour or delay Brexit.

Conservative Brexiteers like Jacob Rees-Mogg have warned the party could split if it endorsed a permanent EU-U.K. customs union, as demanded by the Labour Party. However, the self-appointed “sensibles” insist that the party would also split if the PM took the country toward a no-deal Brexit, explicitly or not.

“She has to know it would split the party both ways,” the Cabinet minister said.

If MPs find themselves in March without any sign of breakthrough, those at the top of government fear an implosion in both major political parties, with unknown (and unknowable) consequences.

“There’s a failure of imagination, that somehow the worst won’t happen,” the Cabinet minister said. “If the Conservative Party splits, it would precipitate an immediate split in the Labour Party. It could all move very, very quickly.”

One senior Tory aide added: “I’ve not known anything like the current environment in parliament, the winds shift so quickly and so many times in a day. We won’t know until they suddenly start to do it. It’s an extremely febrile and organic environment.”

Theresa May has three weeks, then all bets are off.

This article is part of POLITICO’s premium Brexit service for professionals: Brexit Pro. To test our our expert policy coverage of the implications and next steps per industry, email [email protected] for a complimentary trial.


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Theresa May: Tusk’s ‘hell’ comments ‘not helpful’

Donald Tusk’s “hell” comments on Brexit were “not helpful,” and the EU should focus on working with the U.K. to create a close future relationship with the bloc after it leaves, said Prime Minister Theresa May.

Speaking to Sky News after her meeting in Brussels with the European Council president, May said: “I’ve raised with President Tusk the language that he used, which was not helpful and caused widespread dismay in the United Kingdom.”

“The point I made to him is that we should both be working to ensure that we can deliver a close relationship,” she added.

In a press conference Wednesday with Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, Tusk had said that there was a “special place in hell” for Brexiteers who had advocated leaving the EU without a plan for how to do so — a remark that provoked outrage among Brexiteers who claimed it was an insult to the U.K.

May is in Brussels seeking changes to the Withdrawal deal agreed between the EU and the U.K. but overwhelmingly rejected last month by the House of Commons. She held discussions with Tusk, as well as European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker, Parliament President Antonio Tajani and senior MEP Guy Verhofstadt.

But despite vowing to “battle in Brussels for Britain,” May came away with little apparently to show for her diplomatic push. EU officials stuck solidly to their line that the Withdrawal Agreement cannot be reopened and the controversial Northern Ireland backstop cannot be renegotiated because it is vital to maintaining peace.

May said she had come to Brussels to “set out our clear position” and “secure legally binding changes to the withdrawal agreement to deal with concerns that the parliament has over the backstop.”

“Juncker and I have agreed that talks will now start, to find a way to get through this,” she added. “I am going to deliver Brexit, I am going to deliver it on time (…) I’ll be negotiating hard in the coming days to do just that.”


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Brexit talks between May and Juncker ‘robust but constructive’

Jean-Claude Juncker and Theresa May had a “robust but constructive” discussion in Brussels which laid out their respective position but appears to have achieved little progress towards an agreement, according to a joint statement published after their meeting.

The British prime minister is in Brussels for talks with EU officials. With the Commission president, she “raised various options for dealing with … concerns” in the British parliament following last week’s vote, the statement reads.

During the meeting, the Commission president reiterated that the EU will not reopen the agreed Withdrawal Agreement, which represents, read the statement, a “carefully balanced compromise between the European Union and the UK, in which both sides have made significant concessions to arrive at a deal.”

Juncker did, however, express “his openness to add wording to the Political Declaration agreed by the EU27 and the UK in order to be more ambitious in terms of content and speed when it comes to the future relationship between the European Union and the UK.”

The two leaders agreed to meet again before the end of February “to take stock” of the progress. In the meantime their team will hold talks to discuss “whether a way through can be found that would gain the broadest possible support in the UK Parliament and respect the guidelines agreed by the European Council.”

May will also meet Thursday with Parliament President Antonio Tajani, the Parliament’s Brexit coordinator Guy Verhofstadt and Council President Donald Tusk.

Juncker’s spokesperson told a press conference U.K. Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay and EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier are set to meet next week in Strasbourg.


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