The Brexit deal struck by Theresa May with Brussels is “not open for renegotiation”, EU leaders have said as Brussels delivered a bodyblow to the Prime Minister.
Undermining her hopes of getting the controversial Withdrawal Agreement through Parliament, EU leaders deleted some of the most helpful sections of its draft conclusions after listening to pleas from Theresa May at an EU summit in Brussels,
In particular, they removed a line suggesting the controversial backstop -intended to ensure there is no return to a hard border between the North and the Republic - is “not a desirable outcome” for the EU and a promise of “further reassurances” to help deliver the Brexit deal.
It came after May appealed to leaders to give her the assurances she needs to get the backing of MPs for her deal - but they criticised the UK’s lack of clarity over the future relationship it is seeking with the EU once it has left.
After listening to her appeal, European Council president Donald Tusk said EU leaders had reaffirmed their determination that there could be no renegotiation of the Withdrawal Agreement.
He said that they had expressed a “firm determination” to work “speedily” to ensure that there was an agreement on the future relationship in place by the end of the transition period at the of 2020 so the backstop was not needed.
He said that if the backstop was ever activated it would apply temporarily “unless and until it is superseded by an agreement” that ensures a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic is avoided.
His comments stopped short of offering any sort of legally binding commitment or brake clause that is likely to persuade MPs critical of the deal to support it in Parliament.
Meanwhile European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker criticised May’s lack of clarity.
“Our UK friends need to say what they want, instead of asking us to say what we want,” he said.
“So we would like within a few weeks our UK friends to set out their expectations for us because this debate is sometimes nebulous and imprecise and I would like clarifications.”
He added: “We don’t want the UK to think there can be any form of renegotiation, that is crystal clear. We can add clarifications but no real changes.
“There will be no legally binding obligations imposed on the withdrawal treaty.”
May had insisted she could construct a Commons majority for the Withdrawal Agreement, despite heavy criticism from all sides of the House.
However, in a meeting with the leaders of the remaining 27 member states, she said she had to be able to convince MPs the UK would not find itself tied to the EU indefinitely through the backstop.
“There is a majority in my Parliament who want to leave with a deal so with the right assurances this deal can be passed,” she said in prepared remarks released by No 10.
“Indeed it is the only deal capable of getting through my Parliament.”
The Prime Minister, who on Wednesday survived a bruising vote of no confidence by Tory MPs, said a package of assurances around the backstop could “change the dynamic” at Westminster.
At the same time, she made clear a failure by EU leaders to offer concessions risked the collapse of the whole agreement with the UK leaving in March in a disorderly, no-deal Brexit.