British Prime Minister holds ‘constructive’ Brexit talks with wary EU

Vastavam web: British Prime Minister Theresa May said she held “constructive” talks in Brussels on Wednesday as she sought concessions on Brexit from a sceptical European Union, her strategy further battered by the defection of three lawmakers. Looking tense, May met the head of the European Union’s executive arm, Jean-Claude Juncker, on Wednesday evening. He quipped to journalists minutes earlier that a band-aid visible on his cheek was not the prime minister’s doing.

Britain is due to leave the EU on March 29 but diplomats say London has less than a month to overcome the current deadlock in the British parliament and seal a deal ahead of a regular summit of EU national leaders on March 21-22. In their joint statement, May and Juncker said talks were “constructive” and their teams would press on to “explore the options in a positive spirit”. The two plan to meet again before the end of February, when May faces a new test in a parliament where her minority government just lost three supporters.

May said afterwards progress had been made over the backstop but added time was running out to secure changes. Parliament last month voted down the Brexit deal May had negotiated with the bloc and she has struggled since to unlock a stalemate over the so-called backstop – an insurance policy to avoid customs controls on the Irish border. Wednesday’s announcement by three lawmakers that they were quitting May’s Conservative Party over what they called the government’s “disastrous handling of Brexit” compounded doubts over her ability to get any EU-UK deal approved.

In their statement, May and Juncker said talks focused on finding a legal way to reassure lawmakers that the backstop, binding Britain to EU laws, would be “temporary”. A British source said the talks could give May momentum for more talks with EU leaders during a summit with their Arab peers in Egypt on Feb. 24-25. She could then return to parliament next week and offer lawmakers some progress before another vote. But the EU has squarely refused London’s demands to discard the backstop, saying it is essential to avoid customs controls on what would become a new EU-UK border between Ireland and Britain’s historically troubled province of Northern Ireland.

In a lighthearted protest against Brexit, several people awaited May’s arrival for the Juncker talks dressed in pastel unicorn costumes and waving a banner reading “Stop Brexit. Save Britain.” EU officials dismiss Britain’s talk of “alternative arrangements” to avoid a hard border in Ireland as a hunt for the mythical unicorn — a pointless chase after the impossible.