British Prime Minister Theresa May embarked Tuesday on a tour of European capitals in a last-minute bid to win Brexit concessions after cancelling a pivotal vote on the deal in the British parliament amid fear of a landslide defeat.
Early Tuesday, May met with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte in The Hague. The Netherlands is a traditionally close ally of Britain, but Rutte had signalled ahead of time that there was little prospect of renegotiation.
From there she was due to travel to Berlin for talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, before heading to Brussels for meetings with European Council President Donald Tusk and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.
Brussels has insisted that it will not renegotiate the withdrawal agreement, a 585-page legal text negotiated with London detailing the terms of Britain's departure from the European Union. It was endorsed by EU leaders last month.
However, there are signs that the 27 remaining member states are willing to look at ways of helping May get the deal through parliament.
Time is running short to finalize the Brexit deal, with Britain set to leave the EU on March 29, 2019.
On Monday, Tusk had said that the EU ‘will not renegotiate the deal, including the backstop, but we are ready to discuss how to facilitate UK ratification.’ ‘The deal we have achieved is he best deal possible. It is the only deal possible. There is no room whatsoever for renegotiation,’ Juncker added, speaking to EU lawmakers on Tuesday.
‘But of course there is room, if used intelligently (...) to give further clarification and further interpretations without opening the withdrawal agreement,’ he said.
One of the biggest issues in Britain is the so-called backstop - provisions that ensure no hard border will emerge between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, which will leave the EU along with Britain.
There are fears that a return to border controls could reignite decades-old tensions in Northern Ireland.
But hard-line eurosceptics worry that the backstop could keep Britain locked in to a close relationship with the EU, while the provisions would treat Northern Ireland differently from the rest of the United Kingdom.
May has argued that the backstop is unlikely to be used, as the aim is to negotiate a future trade and political relationship with the EU before it could come into effect.
‘We have a common determination to do everything to be not in a situation one day to use that backstop. But we have to prepare it,’ Juncker said. ‘It is necessary for the entire coherence of what we have agreed with Britain, it it is necessary for Ireland.’ ‘Ireland will never be left alone,’ he added.
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