British PM, Theresa May secures last-gasp changes to Brexit deal
After late-night talks in Strasbourg with EU chief Jean-Claude Juncker, the Primer Minister said she had secured an agreement with the EU that there will be “no indefinite backstop” – the key sticking point for many hard-line Brexiteers who Mrs May must win over.
She said the new agreement – or “instrument” – could be used to start a formal dispute against the EU if it tries to keep the UK tied to the backstop. The “Irish backstop” is an insurance policy that will ensure there is no hard border in Ireland.
Mr Juncker said: “It’s this deal or Brexit might not happen at all.”
Not a single word of the Withdrawal Agreement so roundly rejected by MPs has changed. Instead, the UK and EU say they have produced a legally-binding, parallel agreement in an attempt to pacify MPs unhappy at the current deal.
Critics have, however, already pointed to potential holes with the wording, pointing out that the new agreement only says it “reduces the risk” that the UK could be deliberately held in the backstop indefinitely. It is this phrase that could prove a sticking point for many MPs.
Labour immediately dismissed the new deal. Steve Baker, a senior voice in the hard-line Tory Brexiteer group the ERG, said it was nowhere near enough what he wanted. The DUP has said it will study the deal carefully.
This is Mrs May’s last throw of the dice and she urged MPs to back her “improved” deal in the meaningful vote tomorrow. She said: “I will speak in more detail about them when I open that debate.
“MPs were clear that legal changes were needed to the backstop. Today we have secured legal changes. Now is the time to come together to back this improved Brexit deal and deliver on the instruction of the British people.”
She must now hope she can avoid a second humiliating defeat on her Withdrawal Agreement, which takes place on Tuesday evening. If Mrs May can win the vote, Brexit will almost certainly take place as planned on 29 March.
The pound spiked sharply as details as of the deal emerged, at one point hitting a 22-week high against the euro.
What the EU said
Mr Juncker said this was absolutely the final offer on the table, insisting there would be “no third chances”.
He added: “The Prime Minister and I have agreed on a joint legally-binding instrument relating to the Withdrawal Agreement. This instrument provides meaningful clarifications and legal guarantees on the nature of the backstop.
“The backstop is an insurance policy, nothing more, nothing less. The intention is for it not to be used, like in every insurance policy.”
Mr Juncker said he had spoken to Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, who he said had indicated he was “prepared to back this approach in the interests of an overall deal” (Yahoo)