May and Juncker hold ‘robust’ Brexit meet, agree new talks


BRUSSELS • Britain and the European Union (EU) agreed yesterday to hold more talks to try to avoid a no-deal Brexit, after a “robust” meeting between Prime Minister Theresa May and European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker.

A joint statement issued after the talks in Brussels said Juncker had again warned that November’s withdrawal agreement could not be renegotiated — after May came hoping to persuade Brussels to agree on the need to change the so-called “backstop” clause for the Irish border.

But Juncker “expressed his openness to add wording” to a parallel political declaration laying out ambitions for future EU-UK ties if London wants to seek a “more ambitious” closer relationship after Brexit.

May came hoping to change the backstop so that Britain cannot be “trapped” in the bloc against its will — and by doing so win over enough MPs at home to get the deal through Parliament.

She reminded Juncker that the British Parliament had mandated her to seek “a legally binding change to the terms of the backstop”, but instead was offered a fresh round of talks. EU negotiator Michel Barnier will now meet British Brexit Minister Stephen Barclay in Strasbourg on Monday.

May herself will meet Juncker again before the end of February, a commission spokesman said.

A stony-faced May shook hands stiffly with Juncker as she arrived at commission headquarters, refusing to answer questions, but she was expected to make a statement later yesterday.

Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the main Opposition Labour party, wrote to May yesterday setting out his five conditions for backing her on Brexit — including the UK staying in the EU’s customs union.

While his demands will not be palatable to many in May’s Conservative party — not least because of the deeply entrenched tribalism of British politics — it suggests there may be room for manoeuvre, if not yet a clear path to a cross-party deal. — AFP


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