Brexit talks deadlocked day before Commons vote on May’s deal


Brexit talks between the UK and the EU remain deadlocked, Downing Street has said, just a day before MPs are due to vote again on Theresa May’s deal.

Mrs May spoke to European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker on Sunday night after a weekend of negotiations failed to find a breakthrough.

Talks were set to continue on Monday morning with the aim of securing changes before Tuesday’s vote.

The UK is due to leave the EU on 29 March.

Meanwhile, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, said that talks about the UK’s withdrawal from the bloc were now between the British government and MPs.

The government has been seeking changes to the Irish backstop, the safety net designed to maintain an open border on the island of Ireland, and only to be used as a last resort.

But the details of it were a sticking point for many MPs when they voted her deal down in January.

They worry that – in its current form – the backstop may leave the UK tied to the EU indefinitely.

The BBC’s political editor Laura Kuenssberg said the chances of Parliament approving Mrs May’s deal appeared “very remote” at this stage.

She said it was still possible that the UK would come back with some new assurances from the EU over the backstop which could “get the numbers down” and limit the scale of any defeat.

‘Bewildering state of affairs’

Writing in the Daily Mail, pro-Brexit Environment Secretary Michael Gove said while the prime minister’s deal was a compromise, it should not be rejected “for that reason alone”.

He appealed for unity among MPs and the country, and rejected the notion of a no-deal Brexit: “We didn’t vote to leave without a deal. That wasn’t the message of the campaign I helped lead.”

But former cabinet minister Boris Johnson, who campaigned alongside Mr Gove to leave the EU, said there was “no way” he would vote for the backstop in its current form.

“The UK will have less sovereign power to withdraw from the backstop than it has to leave the EU itself,” he wrote in the Daily Telegraph. “It is quite a bewildering state of affairs.”

And Mark Francois, a member of the European Research Group of Brexit-backing Tory MPs, said unless “something amazing” materialised, the outcome of Tuesday’s vote would be similar to that in January – when the government lost by a record 230 votes.

“In very simple terms if you ask the same question, you get pretty much the same answer,” he told BBC Breakfast.

Former Labour cabinet minister Yvette Cooper, who has spearheaded parliamentary efforts to rule out a no-deal exit, said Mrs May “had given me her word” MPs would have a vote on the issue this week.

“I don’t believe she would straight up lie on something as important as this,” she said.

She called for talks on the withdrawal deal and the UK’s exit to be put on hold while the PM tried to build a consensus in Parliament and the country on what kind of future relationship it wanted with the EU.

“The stakes are far too high to assume she has this under control,” she said. “If she won’t find a way forward, Parliament has a responsibility to do so instead.”

And Conservative MP Nick Boles tweeted that the prime minister had promised to hold a second meaningful vote by 12 March.

As things stand, the chances of Theresa May getting approval in the Commons tomorrow for her Brexit compromise, reversing a defeat of more than 200 votes, are very remote.

That said, it is quite possible to get those numbers down. Despite the fact the talks are stuttering with Brussels, it is still likely there will be some kind of piece of paper that emerges from the Berlaymont building – those edifices in Brussels where negotiators have been locked for the past few days.

There is likely to be some kind of reassurance on paper out of those talks, probably at some point later today.

The political point though is this: It is very unlikely – very unlikely – that it’s going to be enough to get the kind of revision to the deal that could comfortably reverse the defeat for the prime minister. That’s why some MPs are starting to say, as they did last time, it is unwise for her to keep marching into gunfire to do again what no prime minister had done in recent memory – to go into a crucial vote all but knowing you are going to lose, and lose badly.

And that’s why things are so risky this week.


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