British PM Theresa May presses EU for 'just one more push' on Brexit deal

Final concerns of MPs need to be addressed, says British PM as new Brexit vote looms

GRIMSBY (England) • British Prime Minister Theresa May urged the European Union to make "just one more push" to break an impasse on Brexit before she tries to get Parliament to back her deal next week.

Lawmakers are due to vote on Mrs May's Brexit plan for a second time on Tuesday, two months after roundly rejecting it and less than three weeks before Britain is due to leave the bloc.

So far, there is little sign of Mrs May getting the concessions from Brussels that she said would help reverse her previous defeat.

"It needs just one more push to address the final, specific concerns of our Parliament," Mrs May said in a speech yesterday in Grimsby, a port town in northern England where 70 per cent of voters had backed the decision to leave the EU in the 2016 referendum.

"So let's not hold back. Let's do what is necessary for MPs to back the deal on Tuesday," she said, warning that "no one knows what will happen" if it is rejected.

London and Brussels are at loggerheads over the so-called Northern Irish backstop, which seeks to prevent the return of physical border controls between Northern Ireland and Ireland - the only land frontier between the United Kingdom and the bloc.

Mrs May wants legally binding assurances from the EU that Britain will not be trapped permanently in the backstop, which involves keeping Britain in a Customs union with the bloc.

 
 
 

Many business leaders are alarmed at the prospect of leaving the bloc's single market, which underpins many of their operations, with no transition arrangements to soften the shock.

Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said the British, not the EU, had to compromise and the decision to leave the bloc had been "a problem of their own creation".

EU diplomats, responding to excerpts of Mrs May's speech released overnight, said she was preparing to blame the bloc for a fresh defeat of her plan.

"We are expecting a blame game after she loses the second 'meaningful vote' next week, so it looks like she is already preparing the ground for this," one of the diplomats said.

Mrs May has said that if her plan is defeated on Tuesday, lawmakers will be able to vote on Wednesday and Thursday on whether they want to leave the bloc without a deal or ask for a short delay to Brexit.

Her top lawyer returned empty-handed from negotiations with the EU earlier this week and the EU told Britain to rework its Irish backstop proposal by yesterday.

Intensive talks between the EU and Britain are under way to help get Brexit through the British Parliament next week, but the bloc has already presented its ideas, said a spokesman yesterday.

"Technical discussions are ongoing. The EU side has offered ideas on how to give further reassurances regarding the backstop, you are aware of all this, so there is no need for me to repeat it," said European Commission spokesman Alexander Winterstein.

Just 21 days before Britain's scheduled exit, the two sides are locked in a game of brinkmanship and attempts to reach a mutually acceptable deal could go down to the wire.

Meanwhile, ambassadors of the 27 EU countries that will remain in the bloc after Britain is scheduled to leave on March 29 gathered yesterday in Brussels to be briefed for one hour by the EU's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier. The meeting was to update envoys on the state of affairs, rather than announce any breakthrough in talks.

The EU's deputy chief negotiator Sabine Weyand and Britain's Olly Robbins would continue discussions over the weekend, diplomats said. British Attorney-General Geoffrey Cox, initially scheduled to be at the discussions, would not be arriving, officials said, in a sign no agreement was imminent.

REUTERS

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 09, 2019, with the headline 'May presses EU for 'just one more push' on Brexit deal'. Print Edition | Subscribe