Theresa May Doesn't Expect ‘immediate breakthrough’ on Brexit

EU is not ready to give additional legal assurances on Brexit deal.

Theresa May has said she does not expect “an immediate breakthrough” in talks with other EU leaders on her Brexit deal as she tries to tweak the deal a little by suggesting that the backstop clause would only apply for a short period.

Mrs May yesterday survived a Conservative party vote on her leadership, but said that she had “heard loud and clear the concerns of those who didn’t feel able to support me”.

“I don’t expect an immediate breakthrough but what I do hope is that we can start to work as quickly as possible on the assurances that are necessary,” Mrs May told reporters on her way to the summit.

After aborting a House of Commons debate on her deal this week, Mrs May has promised that the vote will take place by January 21, by which time she hopes to have obtained the additional reassurances from the EU.

The focus of the discussions is the backstop clause, opposed by many in Mrs May’s governing Conservatives and her allies in Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist party, which provides her with a narrow parliamentary majority.

“What I will be talking to European leaders about here today is about what I think we need to get this deal over the line,” Mrs May said. “I will be showing the legal and political assurances I think we need to assuage the concerns.”

Arriving for a summit in Brussels, the bloc’s leaders insisted that they would not reopen negotiations on the Brexit agreement. Several added that it would be difficult to meet British demands for legally binding assurances.

President Emmanuel Macron of France issued a note of caution about how significant such assurances could be. “We can have a political discussion this evening, but the legal framework has been negotiated and cannot be changed,” he said in Brussels.

“We cannot reopen a legal agreement, we cannot renegotiate what was negotiated over months,” Mr Macron added. “We can have a political discussion but not a legal discussion.”

Mark Rutte, the Netherlands prime minister, said the EU was ready to offer these “clarifications” at the summit. “I can assure you one thing, there is nobody in their right mind who wants to trigger the backstop,” said Mr Rutte.

Juha Sipila, Finland’s prime minister, said a legally binding declaration would be “a little bit difficult”.

“I think that we all want to help first of all. Our goal is that the new relationship will be before the backstop,” he said. “Let’s see if we can find something from the legal side also — but it’s open still.”

Xavier Bettel, Luxembourg’s prime minister, cautioned that the EU would “not be able to do genuine changes” and that “renegotiating will be very, very hard”.

Published: December 13, 2018