BRUSSELS (AFP) - European Union leader Jean-Claude Juncker and Prime Minister Theresa May agreed on Thursday (Feb 7) to hold further talks on Britain's withdrawal from the bloc, after what they described as a "robust" meeting.
EU negotiator Michel Barnier will meet Britain's Brexit Minister Stephen Barclay on Monday in Strasbourg and May and Juncker themselves will get back together before the end of February, a spokesman said.
The European Parliament’s Brexit point man, Guy Verhofstadt, added May had on Thursday, also reassured the European Union that there will be a backstop to prevent a hard border in Ireland in their divorce agreement, a Reuters report said.
“So it’s important that Mrs. May today in the meeting assured us that there will be a backstop. That what she said already in Belfast, there is no question to remove the backstop,” Verhofstadt said.
In a joint statement issued after May met Juncker at EU headquarters in Brussels, the pair confirmed that the European Commission president had warned the British premier that the Brexit withdrawal deal cannot be renegotiated.
But he "expressed his openness to add wording" to a parallel political declaration laying out ambitions for future EU-UK ties if London wants to seek a "more ambitious" closer relationship after Brexit.
May, however, urged that the withdrawal agreement itself be changed, and reminded Juncker that the British Parliament had mandated her to seek "a legally binding change to the terms of the backstop". This is a clause in the withdrawal agreement, signed last November, that would keep Britain in the EU customs union even after a post-Brexit transition period if no way is found to keep the Irish border open.
"The discussion was robust but constructive," the joint statement said.
"Despite the challenges, the two leaders agreed that their teams should hold talks as to 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." If no agreement is reached on the withdrawal deal, which has yet to be approved by either the British or EU parliaments, Britain will crash out of the union with no follow-on trade arrangements on March 29.