Another day, another round of Brexit pleas from May

Top News | 8 Feb 2019

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May returned to Brussels yesterday for a showdown with European Union leaders as she bids to avoid a calamitous no-deal Brexit in 50 days' time.

May, pictured, was expected to demand that Brussels agree on the need to change the so-called "backstop" for the Irish border in the withdrawal agreement, so that Britain cannot be "trapped" in the bloc against its will.

Expectations for the visit were already modest when, a day earlier, EU kingpins Donald Tusk and Jean-Claude Juncker torched May's prospects of winning changes to the withdrawal agreement.

European Commission president Juncker said May already knows and accepts that the EU will not reopen talks. And Tusk, who represents EU member governments as head of the European Council, triggered outrage across the Channel by damning pro-Brexit politicians for - in his view - recklessly failing to plan.

"I've been wondering what that special place in hell looks like, for those who promoted Brexit without even a sketch of a plan how to carry it out safely," Tusk said.

Juncker later repeated the warning that the withdrawal agreement, and the backstop clause designed to keep the Irish border open if no future trade deal is agreed, will not be changed.

"She knows that the commission is not prepared to reopen the issue," Juncker said, after talks with Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, who also insisted on the need for the backstop.

But even this latest demonstration of EU unity did not deter Downing Street, which insisted May's top priority on the trip was to "find a way to guarantee we cannot, and will not, be trapped in the backstop."

Number 10 said that because the British Parliament rejected the deal, May must seek material changes to the accord or see it fail.

The impasse has deepened fears that Britain could crash out of the EU without a deal on March 29, disrupting trade and supplies to manufacturing.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

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