Theresa May to beg EU leaders for Brexit deal changes after seeing off Tory leadership threat

Posted On: 
13th December 2018

Theresa May will make a frantic dash to Brussels today to try and convince EU leaders to help her change her Brexit deal to get it through the House of Commons.

The Prime Minister vowed to seek "legal and political assurances" over the Northern Ireland backstop part of her deal.

Fresh from surviving a vote of no confidence in her leadership of the Conservative party, the Prime Minister will attend a European Council summit where she has vowed to push for further guarantees on the controversial Northern Ireland backstop. 

But there are growing signs that Brussels will reject her central demand for "legal assurances" that the back-up plan for the Northern Ireland border will not stay in force indefinitely.

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Brexiteers and the DUP - who Mrs May relies on for her Commons majority - fear the backstop could leave the UK trapped in the EU's customs union without end if it is triggered.

Speaking outside Downing Street late last night, Mrs May said: "I have heard what the House of Commons said about the Northern Ireland backstop and, when I go to the European Council tomorrow, I will be seeking legal and political assurances that will assuage the concerns that members of parliament have on that issue."

A Whitehall source told the Financial Times that British negotiators would be seeking "a joint interpretative instrument" to try and convince sceptical MPs to get behind Mrs May's deal.

But the embattled Prime Minister will have just ten minutes to pitch her plan to leaders over dinner, with a senior Brussels diplomat telling the paper Telegraph that there is "very little appetite indeed for anything legally-binding". 

"We cannot contemplate any instrument that will complicate, constrain or in any way cut across the legal text of the Withdrawal Agreement that has already been agreed," another EU diplomatic source said.


In a further blow for the Prime Minister's hopes, European Parliament bosses warned that MEPs would vote down any deal that sought significant changes to the backstop.

The Conference of Presidents of the European Parliament said in a statement: "The Conference reconfirmed its view that the Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration are fair and balanced and represent, given EU principles, current UK red lines and the commitments set out in the Good Friday Agreement, the only deal possible to ensure an orderly withdrawal from the European Union.

"It stressed that renegotiating the backstop was not possible since it is the guarantee that in whatever circumstances there could be no hardening of the border on the island of Ireland.

"The Conference reiterated that without a backstop Parliament would not give its consent to the Withdrawal Agreement." ​

Mrs May had been due to meet Irish leader Leo Varadkar on Wednesday, but had to shelve a planned trip to Dublin to face down her Conservative critics in the confidence ballot.

Conservative MPs voted 200 to 117 to support the Prime Minister, meaning she cannot be challenged against for at least a year.

However, the scale of the opposition will be seen as a fresh sign that she will struggle to get her deal through the House of Commons.

Jeremy Corbyn last night demanded that Mrs May bring the deal before MPs "next week", after she shelved a House of Commons vote that had been due on Tuesday.

The Labour leader said: "Tonight's vote changes nothing. Theresa May has lost her majority in Parliament, her Government is in chaos and she's unable to deliver a Brexit deal that works for the country and puts jobs and the economy first. She must now bring her botched deal back to Parliament next week."