EUROPEAN Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker yesterday ruled out re-opening the Withdrawal Agreement after meeting with Tory PM May, making it crystal clear that legally-binding changes to the backstop will not be agreed by the EU.
However, May continued to insist that she could make the EU do the opposite. She told reporters in Brussels: ‘What I have set out is our clear position that we must secure legally binding changes to the Withdrawal Agreement to deal with the concerns that Parliament have over the backstop.
‘And taking that – changes to the backstop, together with the other work that we are doing on workers rights and other issues – will deliver a stable majority in Parliament and that is what I will continue to push for.’
A reporter asked: ‘But Prime Minister you keep asking for changes to the Withdrawal Agreement and the European Union very firmly keeps saying “NO”. Now, Donald Tusk said that some of your colleagues should be sent to hell yesterday. Aren’t you stuck in some kind of purgatory?’
May replied: ‘First of all I have raised with President Tusk, the language which he used yesterday, which was not helpful and caused widespread dismay in the United Kingdom. The point I made to him is that we should both be working to ensure that we can deliver a close relationship between the UK and the European Union in the future.’
Making a statement following the talks, Juncker ‘underlined that the EU27 will not reopen the Withdrawal Agreement’ but ‘expressed his openness’ to amending the future relationship to be ‘more ambitious in terms of content and speed’. May also held a meeting with European Parliament President Antonio Tajani and the EU Parliament’s Brexit co-ordinator Guy Verhofstadt.
Tajani said: ‘This is our position after a long face to face with Prime Minister May.
‘I want to underline the importance of a Brexit without a no-deal. We will work on this.
‘Of course it is impossible for us to change the content of the Withdrawal Agreement.’
Guy Verhofstadt said: ‘So it is important that Mrs May today at the meeting assured us that there will be a backstop.
‘ … if there are problems with the backstop as it is now foreseen in the Withdrawal Agreement, our proposal is to solve the problem in the Political Declaration. Because we are open as Parliament from day one to upgrade the Political Declaration, to make this Political Declaration more binding, more precise.
‘Finally, we have reiterated, President Tajani and myself, we cannot have an agreement with uncertainty in the UK, based on the majorities of six, seven, eight, nine votes in the House of Commons. That cross-party cooperation is the way forward.
‘I think that we can say that we welcome also the letter that Jeremy Corbyn has written today to Mrs May, to offer such a cross party exit, I shall say to the Brexit.’
In Corbyn’s letter he makes serious overtures to May, suggesting that if five demands are met he will instruct Labour MPs to help May pass her Brexit deal through Parliament.
He spoke yesterday about the five demands, saying: ‘The principled points are that we need a comprehensive customs union, we need a comprehensive trade agreement and we need what is called a dynamic relationship on rights at work and on environmental protection, so that this country does not consistently fall behind in the future.’ May’s talks with the EU continue today.