EU: No May Brexit olive branch

British prime minister Theresa May has failed to win any meaningful concessions to salvage her Brexit deal after another day of frantic talks left her future again hanging in doubt.

Ms May’s plea for support fell on deaf ears at the EU summit despite hours of talks last night, as Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and EU leaders warned that any solid, legally binding changes cannot be allowed as they will alter the already existing deal.

In a tense day of behind-closed-doors Brussels meetings, Ms May appeared to give up altering the backstop by failing to raise the issue, and instead focused on winning new legal commitments on any future trade agreements and limits to the existing Brexit deal.

The Irish Examiner understands that during one-to-one meetings with Mr Varadkar and EU president Donald Tusk yesterday morning, and in an hour-long presentation to EU leaders at a working dinner last night, Ms May:

  • Did not specifically raise the backstop or ask for a time limit on how long it will last, despite Brexiteer demands
  • Instead asked for a future relationship agreement start date which would limit how long the backstop would be needed
  • Pushed for new legal add-ons to the already signed Brexit deal to help win over vital Westminster support
  • Requested a non-binding “political declaration” from the EU now to clarify contentious parts of the existing deal

However, despite Mr Varadkar and EU leaders saying they are willing to provide a non-binding political declaration clarifying the existing deal, they rejected all legal commitments demands as they cannot allow anything that could damage the existing agreement.

A high-level source confirmed Ms May made “no request for a time limit on the backstop”, and instead sought help in getting the deal through Westminster via extra “legal protocols” and outlining the future trade talks to calm British fears of being trapped.

However, while welcoming the lack of focus on the backstop, Irish and EU officials rejected the plea for extra legal arrangements “added to the deal, beside the deal or anything like that”.

Instead, the only olive branch provided was the option of a non-binding political declaration “clarifying” what has already been agreed - a compromise which is unlikely to go far enough to appease mutinous Conservative MPs and hard-line Brexiteers.

And with British Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn last night calling on Westminster to “take back control” unless there are immediate changes to Ms May’s “botched deal”, the situation has thrown her future and that of the Brexit deal itself into fresh doubt.

Speaking to reporters after meeting Ms May, Mr Varadkar confirmed in the clearest terms that the backstop is “not on the negotiating table” and said “the deal we have is the only deal on the table”.

Asked about the possibility of any concessions, he said:

When it comes to the assurances the prime minister is seeking, the EU is very keen to offer her explanations, assurances, clarifications, anything that may assist MPs to understand the agreement and hopefully support it,” he said.

“But the backstop is not on the table. I don’t think we could agree to anything that would change the treaty, change the content.”

Mr Varadkar said some of Ms May’s proposals “made sense”, noting the need to “give the UK government a greater assurance about how the withdrawal agreement will be negotiated”.

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