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UK Prime MInister Theresa May.
UK Prime MInister Theresa May.
Image: PA Images

It's now only 50 days to Brexit and Theresa May is in Brussels again looking for a new deal

EU leaders have said the agreed deal will not be renegotiated.
Feb 7th 2019, 7:36 AM 11,001 22

UK PRIME MINISTER Theresa May heads back to meet EU leaders in Brussels today as she seeks a way to avoid a no deal Brexit in 50 days time.

Her visit is aimed at securing changes to her government’s Withdrawal Agreement with the EU that was rejected by the House of Commons last month. 

Her tour was not expected to be fruitful one but expectations were dampened further yesterday by EU officials Donald Tusk and Jean-Claude Juncker.

The president of the European Commission, Juncker, told reporters May already knows and accepts that the EU will not re-open talks on the deal.

And Tusk, who represents EU member governments as head of the European Council, triggered outrage across the Channel by damning pro-Brexit politicians for — in his view — recklessly failing to plan.

“I’ve been wondering what that special place in hell looks like, for those who promoted Brexit without even a sketch of a plan how to carry it out safely,” Tusk said.

Juncker, at a later news conference, did not use the same language, but cheerfully laughed off Tusk’s remark.

But he also repeated the same warning that the withdrawal agreement, and the backstop clause designed to keep the Irish border open if no future trade deal is agreed, will not be changed.

“She knows that the commission is not prepared to reopen the issue,” Juncker said, after talks with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, who also insisted on the need for the backstop.

This apparently united front did not daunt Number 10, who insisted that the British parliament’s rejection of the deal meant that May must seek material changes to the accord or see it fail.

Labour

Back in the UK, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has written to May to outline changes to her deal that would be needed for his party to support it. 

Corbyn reluctantly met with May last week after parliament voted to reject her Withdrawal Agreement. 

In the letter, which Corbyn has published, the Labour leader said changes to May’s “red lines” were needed. Among them that the UK must enter into a customs union with the EU.

“We recognise that your priority is now to seek legally binding changes to the backstop arrangements contained within the withdrawal agreement, as we discussed when we met,” Corbyn writes.

However, without changes to your negotiating red lines, we do not believe that simply seeking modifications to the existing backstop terms is a credible or sufficient response either to the scale of your defeat last month in parliament, or the need for a deal with the EU that can bring the country together and protect jobs.

In the letter, Corbyn outlined in five bullet points the changes he and his party wanted to see:

  • A “permanent and comprehensive UK-wide customs union. This would include alignment the union customs code, a common external tariff and an agreement on commercial policy”.
  • Close alignment with the single market, underpinned by “shared institutions and obligations”.
  • “Dynamic alignment on rights and protections so that UK standards keep pace with evolving standards across Europe.”
  • Clear commitments on future UK participation in EU agencies and funding programmes. 
  • Unambiguous agreements on future security arrangements, including access to the European Arrest Warrant.

If that first point were to be implemented, it would eliminate the need for a backstop as the UK keeping trade standards in line with the EU would negate the need for a border. 

Corbyn’s letter will disappoint supporters of a second referendum who have pushed for the Labour party to back their campaign.

- With reporting by © – AFP 2019

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Rónán Duffy

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