Theresa May, EU chief Jean-Claude Juncker signal ‘constructive’ talks in effort to reach Brexit deal

Feb. 7 (UPI) — British Prime Minister Theresa May returned to Belgium Thursday on orders from lawmakers to try and talk the European Union into making changes to their Brexit deal.

May met with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and Donald Tusk, president of the European Council. In a joint statement, May and Juncker said their talks had been “robust” and “constructive.”

The British prime minister is looking to revamp an agreement between London and the alliance that failed to find support among British lawmakers. Thursday marked May’s second trip to Brussels to try and open new negotiations, which the EU has rejected. This time, however, Juncker signaled he’s more open to discuss changes.

“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 U.K. Parliament and respect the guidelines agreed by the European Council,” the two said in their statement. “The prime minister and the president will meet again before the end of February to take stock of these discussions.”

Juncker said although the EU remains opposed to a new agreement, it’s open to adding new language to the exit package.

Britain is set to leave the EU at the end of March, but so far there’s been no deal widely accepted among all parties. The potential of leaving without a pact has stoked fears of severe political and economic ramifications.

Britons approved leaving the alliance in mid-2016 but the finer details of how that will happen — mainly whether Northern Ireland and Ireland will have hard borders, or a “backstop” — have caused the process to drag on for months.

May told cabinet ministers Tuesday she wants to find a legally binding way to ensure Britain won’t be trapped indefinitely in the backstop. British Parliament voted Jan. 29 to send May back to Belgium to craft a new deal.

EU leaders want the backstop with Ireland because it avoids a hard border and aids the peace process.

“For us, as you know, the backstop, which is part of the withdrawal agreement, is the central piece, is of fundamental importance,” an EU spokesman said.

British politicians didn’t expect May’s second trip to Brussels to go over well. Her chief of state, Gavin Barwell, arrived ahead of May to meet a “combination of European politicians and officials.”

May’s office said it’s working on three proposals and the prime minister is “determined to do what it takes” to achieve necessary changes for a deal.

Thursday’s meeting follows remarks by Tusk this week that angered Brexit supporters. He said Wednesday there’s a “special place in hell” for politicians who favor leaving the EU without a deal.


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