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'I don't expect a breakthrough': May to meet EU leaders as she aims to re-negotiate Brexit deal

EU leaders insist they will not restart negotiations with just six weeks until Brexit.
Feb 20th 2019, 7:43 AM 13,690 28

BRITISH PRIME MINISTER Theresa May will return to Brussels today to continue attempts to reopen the terms of Britain’s Brexit divorce, but appears headed for disappointment.

With less than six weeks until Brexit, European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker has agreed to meet May once again, but EU leaders insist they will not restart negotiations.

“I have great respect for Theresa May, for her courage and her assertiveness,” Juncker said yesterday.

“We will have a friendly talk tomorrow but I don’t expect a breakthrough.”

May and the other 27 EU leaders approved a Brexit withdrawal agreement at a summit on 25 November last year, but the House of Commons rejected it on 15 January.

Since then, May and her ministers have repeatedly met EU leaders and their negotiator Michel Barnier to urge them to reopen the text to find a way to appease eurosceptic MPs.

May will try again today, but on this trip she will not even meet Donald Tusk who, as president of the European Council, represents the leaders of EU member states.

She will instead meet Juncker and Barnier, who have no mandate from Tusk’s council or EU capitals to renegotiate the deal, or to modify the Northern Ireland backstop.

However, Brexiteers in the Conservative party see this as a trap to keep Britain in a form of union indefinitely, and have demanded a time limit or a unilateral exit clause.

May’s spokesman said the prime minister was “working hard to secure legally binding changes” to the backstop.

“The prime minister believes that she can secure changes in relation to the backstop MPs want – there is a majority in parliament for a deal,” he added.

May is due at the EU’s Berlaymont headquarters for her meeting with the Commission president at 5:30 pm, while Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn will also meet Barnier tomorrow.

Separately, the Irish Independent reports that the British and Irish governments have guaranteed the continued payment of social welfare payments, including state pensions and child benefit, if the UK leaves the EU without a deal.

A legally binding agreement was signed by the two governments to ensure that welfare payments will still be paid to expats living in both countries, as part of rights that currently exist under the Common Travel Area.

- © AFP 2019 with additional reporting from Stephen McDermott.

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