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Ministers fail to break deadlock on backstop in ‘robust’ Brussels Brexit talks

2 min read

Ministers are returning to Britain having failed to secure a backstop breakthrough during Brexit talks with the European Union.

Attorney General Geoffrey Cox and Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay met with EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier in Brussels last night.

Mr Cox told reporters as he left the Belgian capital that “strong views” had been exchanged.

“These are very sensitive discussions,” he said.

“We are into the meat of the matter now. We have put forward some proposals, very reasonable proposals. We are now into the detail of the discussion.”

“I can’t reveal the discussions. These are private and confidential discussions. Both sides have exchanged robust, strong views and we are now facing the real discussions. Talks will be resuming soon.”

A European Commission spokesman said that the talks took place in "a constructive atmosphere" but that "discussions have been difficult".

"No solution has been identified at this point which is consistent with the Withdrawal Agreement including the protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland which as you all know won't be reopened," the spokesman said. 

Ministers are under pressure to win concessions on the Northern Ireland backstop part of the Withdrawal Agreement if they are to pass the deal in the Commons ahead of the planned 29 March exit date.

The EU has said the controversial mechanism - which would keep the UK in a customs union with the EU after the post-Brexit transition period if no alternative to maintaining an open Irish border had been found – cannot be time-limited despite demands from hardline Brexiteers.

A Downing Street spokesman said of the discussions this afternoon: “My understanding is that the talks were difficult and there was a robust exchange of views. However, talks are ongoing.

“The EU continues to say that it wants this to be resolved and it wants the UK to leave with a deal. Parliament has been clear that In order for this to happen, we require legally binding changes which mean the UK cannot be trapped in the backstop indefinitely and that is what we will continue to pursue.”

But Labour MP and campaigner for the pro-EU Best for Britain group Virendra Sharma said: “We have heard the EU say the same thing countless times now. But the Government continues to roll it’s terrible deal in glitter. The Prime Minister is intent on chasing unicorns instead of putting the national interest first.

“With no breakthrough in sight for negotiations, the Government has nowhere left to hide.

“The Prime Minister’s botched Brexit deal must be voted down, and Brexit must be put back in the hands of the British people."

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