Brexit: May heads back to Brussels but European Union not budging

The EU warns they 'will not reopen the withdrawal agreement' | London Business News

The British government sees May's meeting on Wednesday with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker as a crucial chance to get legally binding changes to the so-called Irish border backstop, which has proved the biggest obstacle to getting a deal.

Prime Minister Theresa May heads back to Brussels on Wednesday to renew her quest to reopen the terms of Britain's Brexit divorce, but appears headed for disappointment.

With less than six weeks until Brexit day, May met European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker hoping for progress on the "Irish backstop", though EU leaders have insisted they will not restart negotiations.

Mr Juncker has said that he does not expect a "breakthrough" in talks at which Mrs May is expected to request legally-binding assurances that the backstop will not extend indefinitely.

However, the statement reaffirmed a letter sent by Mr Juncker and EU Council President Donald Tusk on 14 January, which states that Brussels is "not in a position to agree to anything that changes or is inconsistent with the Withdrawal Agreement" already agreed with the UK.

The backstop arrangements would see the whole of the United Kingdom remain in a customs union with the EU and Northern Ireland following some single market rules until a wider trade deal is agreed, in order to prevent the need for checkpoints on the Irish border.

Separately, European Council President Donald Tusk said the Brexit negotiations might be extended if the United Kingdom fails to work out a sensible deal. "That is why we are determined to get no deal off the table".

Corbyn said May needed to free herself from hard-line pro-Brexit Conservative MPs who she was seeking to appease.

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Mr Hammond said government policy on Brexit was "very clear".

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A second diplomat, briefed on the May-Juncker talks, confirmed the European Union would only signal this was the direction of travel, rather than offering a precise text, before May faces another vote in parliament.

After three Tory MPs quit the party to join a group of independents, she is also facing threats from senior MPs that they could too defect if the threat of a no-deal increases.

Barclay, Barnier and Cox were due to continue talks "urgently" at a technical level, the UK's Brexit ministry said.

"I'm telling you so that you don't think it was Mrs".

It came as Geoffrey Cox, the Attorney General, held talks with Michel Barnier, the EU's chief Brexit negotiator, on how to ensure the backstop would only be a temporary measure. European Union leaders have refused to agree to any time limit.

"If no deal were to happen, and I can not exclude this, this would have bad economic and social consequences in Britain and on the continent", he said.

The EU has said multiple times it is not willing to renegotiate and that avoiding a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland is their priority.

The statement also refers back to the joint letter between Mr Juncker and Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, which again reassured the United Kingdom that all sides were committed to finding a replacement to the backstop.

In this scenario, British citizens in the European Union and EU citizens in the United Kingdom could lose their rights overnight: they are only guaranteed by May's Withdrawal Agreement if the deal is approved.

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