Theresa May clashes with Donald Tusk as Brexit breakthrough remains out of reach

Posted On: 
7th February 2019

The EU has agreed to hold fresh Brexit talks with the UK - despite Theresa May clashing with Donald Tusk over his claim there is "a special place in hell" for some Leave campaigners.

Theresa May and Jean-Claude Juncker in Brussels.
PA Images

Downing Street insisted "progress" had been made after a day of tense talks between the Prime Minister and senior Brussels officials.

Mrs May told EU Council president Mr Tusk that the language he had used to describe those who backed Brexit without a plan for implementing it "was not helpful and caused widespread dismay in the United Kingdom".

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In a tweet posted after the pair's meeting, Mr Tusk said: "Still no breakthrough in sight. Talks will continue."

Earlier, the Prime Minister had held "robust but constructive" talks with EU Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker, during which he rejected her calls for the Withdrawal Agreement be re-opened to allow legally-binding changes to the Irish backstop.

However, in a boost for Mrs May, he did concede that further talks could be held on possible changes to the accompanying political declaration to clarify that the backstop - an insurance policy to avoid a hard Irish border - cannot be permanent.

A joint-statement issued on behalf of the pair said: "President Juncker expressed his openness to add wording to the political declaration agreed by the EU27 and the UK in order to be more ambitious in terms of content and speed when it comes to the future relationship between the European Union and the UK."

Speaking after the meetings with both men, Mrs May said: "What I’ve set out is our clear position that we must secure legally-binding changes to the withdrawal agreement to deal with the concerns that Parliament has over the backstop, and that changes to the backstop, together with the other work we’re doing on workers’ rights and other issues, will deliver a stable majority in Parliament.

"That’s what I will continue to push for. It’s not going to be easy but crucially President Juncker and I have agreed that talks will now start to find a way through this, to find a way to get this over the line and to deliver on the concerns that Parliament has, so we get a majority in Parliament."