British Prime Minister Theresa May was to return to Brussels on Thursday in an attempt to reopen talks on the Brexit divorce agreement with the European Union.
May was scheduled to meet with EU representatives including European Council President Donald Tusk and Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.
Read more: Brexit: Why is the Irish backstop so controversial?
With the planned departure date of March 29 fast approaching, it is expected that EU officials will not negotiate with May when she attempts to discuss the legal withdrawal agreement which was already endorsed in November before the UK Parliament overwhelmingly rejected it.
The talks are expected to focus on the stalemate over the border between EU-member Ireland and Northern Ireland, which is in the United Kingdom.
Read more: Fact check: As Brexit looms, how dependent is Ireland on British trade?
Irish backstop tops agenda
May is seeking changes to the “backstop” protocol in the withdrawal agreement that is designed to guarantee that the Irish border remain open, in order to win parliamentary approval of the Brexit deal. She has struggled, however, to agree with UK politicians on what any changes might look like, beyond calls for a unilateral exit clause for the UK, which Brussels has already rejected.
Some Brexit supporters fear the backstop could leave Britain tied too closely to the EU, by placing Northern Ireland under slightly different and perhaps indefinite arrangements from the rest of the United Kingdom.
“The UK’s objective is to find a way to guarantee we cannot, and will not, be trapped in the backstop,” a government source told the dpa news agency ahead of Thursday’s talks.
“The prime minister is open to different ways to achieve this, but is clear it must be legally binding and therefore she will require changes to the withdrawal agreement,” the source said, adding that “securing such changes will not be easy.”
While May was in Northern Ireland on Wednesday, Tusk was south of the border in Dublin with Ireland’s Leo Varadkar. There, he again said that Brussels and Ireland were not willing to remove or compromise on the backstop, saying they would not “gamble with peace” on the once conflict-ridden island of Ireland. However, it was later comments about there being a “special place in hell” reserved for leading Brexit campaigners that dominated the headlines in the UK and abroad.
“I’ve been wondering what that special place in hell looks like, for those who promoted Brexit without even a sketch of a plan [for] how to carry it out safely,” Tusk said at the end of his press conference with Varadkar. This prompted Ireland’s Taoseach to say “they’ll give you terrible trouble for this,” in comments quietly picked up by the podium microphones.
law/msh (AP, dpa)
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