BRUSSELS, LONDON: The European Union “stands ready to examine whether any further assurance can be provided” to Britain over the Irish backstop and their tentative divorce agreement, a draft seen by Reuters showed on Thursday.
The draft, a six-point document the EU is preparing for British Prime Minister Theresa May on Thursday to help convince the divided UK parliament to approve their Brexit deal, said any such assurances would not “change or contradict” the agreement.
The other 27 EU states have not yet agreed on much of the text and diplomatic sources said especially the paragraph on the EU’s readiness to provide more assurances to Britain was likely to change later in the day because of opposition from Ireland as well as other bloc members.
Germany is not willing to renegotiate a backstop solution for Northern Ireland that is laid out in the draft agreement for Britain’s exit from the European Union, Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told Deutschlandfunk radio on Thursday.
The text of the draft deal is not the basis for discussion, but the basis of decision-making, Maas said.
May is seeking legal assurances on the most controversial part of her deal — an insurance policy known as backstop to prevent a hard border between EU member Ireland and the British province of Northern Ireland.
Meanwhile, pro-European ministers in May’s Cabinet are plotting to secure a Brexit they can live with.
Six ministers have urged May to force Parliament to vote informally on a range of Brexit outcomes, according to people familiar with the situation. The plan is to show that there’s no majority for any kind of divorce in a bid to get lawmakers to accept a compromise.
Once it’s clear that no one’s first option commands enough support, the idea is that May’s deal — which is widely loathed — might then look like a reasonable compromise with a decent chance of success, according to two Cabinet ministers.
But it could also flush out support for keeping closer ties to the bloc than the premier is proposing. There’s even a chance that the exercise could point the way to a second referendum, which May has repeatedly rejected. May — who survived a leadership challenge on Wednesday — doesn’t like the plan as it could have unforeseen consequences, according to one of the people.
Ministers including Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond, Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd, Justice Secretary David Gauke, Business Secretary Greg Clark and Education Secretary Damian Hinds are urging May to hold a series of “indicative votes”, according to eight people familiar with the situation. There’s pressure to hold the votes as soon as next week, according to three of the people.
May abandoned a vote in parliament this week on her deal as she expected to lose it by a wide margin. She’s now seeking some tweaks to the agreement in the hope that will make it more acceptable to lawmakers. Still, the European Union has made it clear that only clarifications, rather than real changes, are on offer.
No date has been set for another vote in Parliament, and May has indicated she thinks she has until Jan. 21 to have another go.
With just over 100 days until Britain is due to leave the European Union, Parliament is split over what Brexit should mean. May’s proposal doesn’t have a majority, but neither does the looser arrangement favoured by Brexiteers. It’s not clear if a Norway-style deal preferred by Europhiles would command a majority.