Britain, EU locked in talks as Brexit vote nears

March 8, 2019

By Gabriela Baczynska

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Intensive talks between the European Union and Britain are underway to help get Brexit through the British parliament next week, but the bloc has already presented its ideas, a spokesman said on Friday.

“Technical discussions are ongoing. The EU side has offered ideas how to give further reassurances regarding the backstop, you are aware of all this, so there is no need for me to repeat it,” said Alexander Winterstein, spokesman for the European Commission.

“Intensive work is ongoing,” he said.

The European Union told Britain this week to rework its Irish backstop proposal by Friday, but feared it would struggle to secure a deal that satisfied pro-Brexit lawmakers before the UK parliament vote on Wednesday.

Just 21 days before Britain is due to leave the EU, the two sides are locked in a game of brinkmanship and attempts to reach a mutually acceptable deal could go down to the wire.

Ambassadors of the 27 European Union countries that will stay in the bloc after Britain is scheduled to leave on March 29 will gather at 1400 GMT in Brussels to be briefed for one hour by the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier.

The meeting is to update envoys on the state of affairs, rather than announce any breakthrough, in talks that have been deadlocked since the British parliament rejected the deal negotiated by Prime Minister Theresa May in January.

The EU’s deputy chief negotiator Sabine Weyand and Britain’s Olly Robbins would continue discussions over the weekend, diplomats said.

British Attorney General Geoffrey Cox, initially scheduled to come to Brussels on Friday for further discussions, would not be arriving after all, officials said, in a sign no agreement was imminent.

May tasked Cox with securing concessions from the EU on a major demand of pro-Brexit lawmakers, namely that divorce provisions to ensure no hard border on the island of Ireland would not trap the UK in the bloc’s trade rules.

EU negotiators object that the Cox proposal would unpick the Withdrawal Agreement reached by the EU and UK last year after months of tortuous negotiations.

(Reporting by Gabriela Baczynska and Jan Strupczewski; Writing By Jan Strupczewski; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)

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