May heads to Brussels for extraordinary Brexit meeting with Juncker

May heads to Brussels for extraordinary Brexit meeting with Juncker

May heads to Brussels for extraordinary Brexit meeting with Juncker

She hopes a legal assurance that the Irish backstop will not be indefinite will be enough to secure parliamentary approval for her deal.

The British government sees May's meeting on Wednesday with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker as a crucial chance to get legally binding changes to the so-called Irish border backstop, which has proved the biggest obstacle to getting a deal.

Theresa May insisted she had made progress on the Brexit backstop last night amid signs that her deal could be put back before MPs next week.

"We can not accept a time limit to the backstop or unilateral exit clause", said Margaritis Schinas, a spokesperson for the Commission, during a regular news briefing.

Instead, May is set to ask for legally binding assurances that the backstop will not be extended indefinitely.

On Monday (18 February), Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay met European Union chief negotiator Michel Barnier, and on Tuesday, Attorney General Geoffrey Cox will make a speech setting out what changes would be required to eliminate the legal risk that Britain could be trapped in a Northern Irish backstop indefinitely.

Theresa May says she believes she can reach a Brexit deal that parliament can support, allowing Britain to leave the European Union on March 29.

The EU has refused to reopen the treaty or to add new text that would anger Ireland by putting a time limit on the backstop or giving London a unilateral right to quit an arrangement that would see Britain obliged to follow EU trade and industry rules until a better way is found, probably using technology, to keep the border open while letting the United Kingdom diverge from EU standards.

Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn is due to meet EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier on Thursday | AFP
Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn is due to meet EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier on Thursday | AFP

British Prime Minister Theresa May will meet with EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker late Wednesday for a latest attempt to find a breakthrough in the stalled Brexit negotiations.

An extension of Article 50 - which determines the exit date - must be agreed unanimously by all the EU's remaining 27 member states.

"With just 37 days until Brexit, Theresa May must accept that her historic defeats in parliament and complete failure to reach a new deal mean her approach has failed".

Both sides have said they want to avoid hard Brexit, and many experts foresee economic chaos, even warning of food and medicine shortages or a renewed threat of unrest in Northern Ireland.

Another option would be for Brussels to accord Britain an extension to the March 29 deadline, which is enshrined in British law. The automaker said the decision was not directly related to Brexit, but UK Business Secretary Greg Clark said "decisions like Honda's this morning demonstrates starkly how much is at stake".

But delaying Brexit would require the EU's approval - and if it is extended too far, it would force Britain to take part in the May 23-26 EU-wide election for the European Parliament.

"If you are asking for how long the withdrawal can be postponed, I have no timeframe in mind... We will have friendly talk tomorrow but I don't expect a breakthrough".

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