UK’s May seeks Brexit deal changes, but European Union stands firm

Desiree Burns
January 31, 2019

Brussels has been adamant that it will not reopen the Agreement, struck by Mrs May and European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker and signed off by leaders of the remaining 27 EU states last November. It consists of a legally binding, 585-page withdrawal agreement setting out the terms of the U.K.'s departure, and a shorter, non-binding political declaration committing the two parties to close future ties.

They were set to throw their weight behind a government-backed amendment by Conservative backbencher Sir Graham Brady that says the Commons will support a deal if "alternative arrangements" to the backstop were found.

Speaking hours before the vote, May beseeched parliament to reject any amendment that would take the prospect of a no-deal Brexit off the table.

Dr Fox gave a cool reception to a compromise deal put forward by housing minister Kit Malthouse which has won the support of the Democratic Unionist Party.

His proposal was to replace the controversial Irish backstop with "alternative arrangements to avoid a hard border".

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The European Union has been adamant that there will be no renegotiation of the withdrawal agreement and that means no changes will be made to the backstop proposal; unless of course the United Kingdom shifts its red lines.

"And Graham has said he could live with a protocol rather than changes to the text, whereas from our point of view there needs to be changes to the text".

Some 321 MPs voted against the amendment versus 298 - a majority of 23.

Put forward by Labour lawmaker Yvette Cooper, this plan has a strong chance of succeeding as the opposition Labour Party has said it is likely to back it and it is supported by several of May's Conservatives.

Robert Hazell, professor of government and the constitution at University College London, said the European Union was "pretty resolute in not being willing to reopen the negotiations unless the British government can come back with something more specific".

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Senior Brexiteer Sir Bernard Jenkin said he did not intend to back it, telling ITV News: "It's very vague and it's deliberately vague because it's meant to mean different things to different people".

British Prime Minister Theresa May is seeking to salvage a Brexit deal but is headed towards a clash with the European Union by promising to overhaul the divorce deal she spent a year and a half negotiating with the bloc. We have achieved collectively between opposition and Government a backstop to prevent a hardening of the border and to protect the Good Friday Agreement. "We can't have some codicil or letter or joint declaration".

The Institute for Government's Jill Rutter described it as "unnegotiable", based on ideas that had been rejected "time and again" by Brussels.

Ireland's European Affairs Minister, Helen McEntee, said British politicians needed to show "a bit of realism".

With two months left until Britain is due by law to leave the European Union, investors and allies have urged the government to clinch a deal to allow an orderly exit from the club it joined in 1973.

"Europe is only going to make concessions if it is presented with a clear option and we have got to see whether that emerges in the voting".

"The Labour Party will back the amendment tonight because to crash out without a deal would be deeply damaging for industry and economy", he said.

"I think we should send the Prime Minister back to Brussels with a strong mandate to be able to say "If you compromise with us on this one issue, on the backstop, we would be able to a get an agreement - an agreement that is nearly there", he said.

Plaid Cymru's Liz Saville-Roberts said "chasing unicorns is not a plan". There's nearly an air of the Prime Minister and her Government being in complete denial about this.

"Most of the amendments before us do not provide that".

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