Monday

25th May 2020

Brexit talks to continue after May-Juncker meeting

  • Jean-Claude Juncker, who wore a plaster on his face because he had cut himself saving, he said, welcomed May in the EU commission headquarters (Photo: European Commission)

European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker and British prime minister Theresa May agreed to continue Brexit talks and meet again in February after what they described as "constructive" talks in Brussels on Wednesday (20 February) evening.

May told a British broadcaster after the hour-long meeting that she had sought "legally binding changes" to the Brexit deal which the EU and the UK agreed in November, but which failed to get support in the UK parliament.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

She is pushing for tweaks to the so-called backstop, an arrangement that would keep Britain aligned with the EU's customs union to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland.

"That's what is required if a deal is going to pass the House of Commons ... Time is of the essence," May said.

The EU has ruled out changes to the withdrawal agreement, but is willing to come up with annexes to the Brexit deal that could soothe concerns in the UK parliament.

Expectations were low in the EU on Wednesday's meeting, the second of its kind in two weeks, with EU officials and member states wanting to first see assurances that May can get a modified deal through parliament before they budge.

Discussions between Juncker and May focused on figuring out "which guarantees could be given with regard to the backstop that underlines once again its temporary nature and give the appropriate legal assurance to both sides", according to a joint statement.

They also touched on "the role alternative arrangements could play in replacing the backstop in future".

May said that her Brexit minister, Steve Barclay, would be back in Brussels on Thursday, along with British attorney general Geoffrey Cox, who has emerged as a key player on the UK side, as he holds the view the backstop could become a permanent state for the UK.

Negotiators are hoping to convince Cox that the EU does not intend to keep the backstop in place forever, but only until a better solution is found to keep open the border on the island of Ireland under a new deal on future British-EU relations.

Cox told British lawmakers in December that although the Brexit deal stipulated the backstop would be temporary and only apply until the two sides had settled their future relationship, there was no way for the UK to leave the arrangement without the approval of EU member states.

Changing Cox's legal advice could swing the necessary number of votes in favour of the Brexit deal in Westminster, negotiators hope.

The EU, however, argues that a time limit to the backstop, or a unilateral exit clause for the UK kills the purpose of the deal as an insurance policy.

In a joint statement, May and Juncker said they were working on "appropriate legal assurance to both sides".

Brexit looms

But with only 37 days until Brexit, the risk of a no-deal scenario is increasing.

The UK could ask for a delay on Brexit to negotiate further and to avoid running out of time to pass the necessary laws in the next month to prepare for its departure.

"Of course, if Britain fails to prepare some sensible option on time, then there is always a possibility to extend these negotiations in time. This would be better than a divorce without agreement," EU Council president Donald Tusk said in an interview on Wednesday.

May will meet with several EU leaders during a weekend summit with Arab governments in Egypt.

The EU leaders are also looking for assurances she can deliver parliamentary ratification for the deal before they agree to attach any new provisos to the Brexit accord.

The talks come as three Tory MPs left May's party to join a new "Independent Group" in parliament together with eight Labour MPs who broke away from Britain's main opposition party.

The three MPs criticised May's government for letting the "hard-line anti-EU awkward squad" take over the party, BBC reported.

Barnier: UK has to move on Brexit

No breakthrough emerged from the meeting between the top EU and UK negotiators on Monday evening in Brussels. Michel Barnier urged the UK to move on its red lines to help clinch a deal, with 45 days left until Brexit.

Low hopes for May visit, as Tusk warns of Brexiteer 'Hell'

EU council chief Donald Tusk said he wondered if there is a 'special place in hell for those who promoted Brexit without a plan', as Brussels expects British PM Theresa May to arrive on Thursday - without a plan.

Agenda

Brexit and Orban in spotlight This WEEK

As EU leaders gather in Egypt to discuss migration with Arab leaders, UK leader Theresa May will lobby them to agree to a revised Brexit deal.

EU and UK in Brexit brinksmanship

British prime minister Theresa May is to urge the EU to back down on Ireland in a speech to eurosceptic British workers 21 days before the Brexit due date.

Agenda

Orban's EPP place and summertime back This WEEK

The EPP continues to struggle to deal with Orban's Fidesz party, while the Hungarian PM's favourite topic - migration - will be back on home affairs ministers' agenda. And the UK is set to leave the EU this month.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Sustainable Energy WeekThis year’s EU Sustainable Energy Week (EUSEW) will be held digitally!
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic states are fighting to protect gender equality during corona crisis
  3. UNESDACircularity works, let’s all give it a chance
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers call for post-corona synergies between economic recovery and green transition
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic co-operation on COVID-19
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic research collaboration on pandemics

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAMaking Europe’s Economy Circular – the time is now
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersScottish parliament seeks closer collaboration with the Nordic Council
  3. UNESDAFrom Linear to Circular – check out UNESDA's new blog
  4. Nordic Council of Ministers40 years of experience have proven its point: Sustainable financing actually works
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Baltic ministers paving the way for 5G in the region
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersEarmarked paternity leave – an effective way to change norms

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us