May flies to Europe to save Brexit deal, as EU head says ‘no room whatsoever’ for negotiation
Mrs May’s first stop was breakfast with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte in The Hague. (AP: Peter Dejong)
A day after delaying a vote on her Brexit deal, British Prime Minister Theresa May has flown to Europe to meet with leaders in a last-ditch attempt to renegotiate certain controversial aspects of the deal.
- EU Commission president says he can only provide clarity on current deal
- German Minister cannot see how deal can be amended
- Ireland set to rush recruitment of 1,000 custom officials to prepare for “no-deal” Brexit
Mrs May met Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte in The Hague for breakfast, ahead of a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin.
Then Mrs May will head to Brussels to meet with EU Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker and European Council president Donald Tusk.
But Mr Juncker has said the EU would not renegotiate the deal on Brexit, and stating there was “no room whatsoever for renegotiation”.
“The deal we achieved is the best possible. It’s the only deal possible,” Mr Juncker said.
“But of course there is room enough to give further clarifications and further interpretations without opening the withdrawal agreement.”
Mrs May decided to delay a vote on the floor of the British Parliament on the deal she had originally agreed with the EU — admitting she would have lost the vote considerably.
Mrs May said she would seek “reassurances” from the EU on certain aspects of the deal, including its most contentious element — a “backstop” for the Northern Ireland frontier.
Her decision came just hours after the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled Britain could, if it so chose, reverse its decision to leave the EU, boosting the hopes of those campaigning for a second vote.
Speaking before Mrs May arrived in Berlin, Germany’s European Affairs Minister, Michael Roth, echoed Mr Juncker, stating he could not see any area where the deal could be amended.
“Sometimes I don’t understand the world anymore,” Mr Roth said.
“We spent so much time, energy and creativity to negotiate something we in Berlin and Brussels don’t want. Nobody wants the UK to leave.
“I cannot imagine where we could change something substantial in the withdrawal agreement. We cannot restart the talks because it was already difficult enough among the EU 27 and UK to agree on this deal.”
In light of Mrs May’s decision to pull the vote and a growing possibility of a “no-deal” Brexit, Ireland’s Foreign Minister, Simon Coveney, said the UK’s close neighbour would ramp up its plans for a no-deal Brexit.
Mr Coveney said this would include accelerating the recruitment of 1,000 customs officials and veterinary inspectors to work at ports and airports, with Ireland considering its plan of action for the multiple Brexit outcomes.
“We are now actively, not only preparing for that, but taking actions to ensure that if necessary we will be ready on March 29 for Britain to leave the EU without a deal,” Mr Coveney told Irish national broadcaster RTE, adding that he still thought a no-deal Brexit was unlikely.
As investors and allies tried to work out the ultimate destination for the world’s fifth-largest economy, rebel politicians in Mrs May’s party said she had to go.
“If we can’t go forwards with her deal … then I’m afraid the only way to change the policy is to change the prime minister and I really think it’s her duty to go,” Brexit-supporting Conservative Steve Baker said.
A leadership challenge is triggered if 48 Conservatives write letters demanding one to the chairman of the party’s so-called 1922 committee, Graham Brady.
The Labour Party was urged by other smaller opposition parties to trigger a vote of no confidence in the Government but said it would not act right away.
“We will put down a motion of no confidence when we judge it most likely to be successful,” a party spokesman said.