The French President has reportedly softened his line following a last-ditch bid by the EU to help get the withdrawal agreement finalised next month.
Attorney general Geoffrey Cox, whose previous legal advice suggested the backstop could be used to keep Britain in the customs union, could crucially be persuaded to change his view if enough legal assurances are given, senior EU diplomats believe.
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Emmanuel Macron is set to give Theresa May a legally-binding assurance that the Irish Brexit backstop is only temporary. The French President has reportedly softened his line following a last-ditch bid by the EU to help get the withdrawal agreement finalised next month
‘There will be sufficient changes to allow Mr Cox to give a pass to the agreement,’ a veteran European ambassador told The Times.
Mr Cox and Brexit secretary Stephen Barclay are expected in Brussels on Monday for talks with Michel Barnier, the EU’s lead negotiator.
While the prime minister will then engage is more talks with Jean-Claude Juncker, the European Commission president.
However, a senior government source said an imminent breakthrough is unlikely, and indicated Theresa May would instead ask for more time when the Commons debates Brexit on March 1.
‘There is progress being made and we would hope to be able to show signs of it by then,’ the source told The Times. ‘But any agreement is unlikely to be ratified.’
Despite it’s willingness to negotiate a new legally binding assurance, diplomats did urge that there are limitations on what could be offered because of the risk to the Irish prime minister’s minority government.
Attorney general Geoffrey Cox, whose previous legal advice suggested the backstop could be used to keep Britain in the customs union, could crucially be persuaded to change his view if enough legal assurances are given, senior EU diplomats believe
The discussions come amid a fear within the Conservative Party of an influx of Ukip voters – dubbed ‘a Purple Momentum’.
Former ministers Nick Boles and Anna Soubry said a ‘purple Momentum’ was gaining control of some local Conservative associations and leaving their sitting MPs facing the threat of deselection.
It came as Theresa May was warned that a dozen ministers will resign by the end of the month unless she agrees to postpone Brexit to prevent a No Deal scenario.
Miss Soubry yesterday said the Conservative Party was ‘broken’ as the Prime Minister struggles to reconcile the warring factions.
Anna Soubry said a ‘purple Momentum’ was gaining control of some local Conservative associations and leaving their sitting MPs facing the threat of deselection
Speaking at the White House on Friday, Trump signalled Washington welcomed a new trade agreement with Britain and said ‘we are agreeing to move forward’.
His comments will be seen as a boost for Brexiteer hopes that Britain’s departure from the EU will enable successful free trade deals around the world.
The President had previously warned that Theresa May’s plans for close alignment with Brussels could ‘kill’ the prospect of a transatlantic deal.
‘We’re agreeing to move forward and preserve our trade agreement,’ Trump said in Washington today.
‘You know all of the situation with respect to Brexit and the complexity and the problems, but we have a very good trading relationship with the UK and that’s just been strengthened.
U.S. trade with Britain will rise ‘very substantially’ after Brexit , President Donald Trump said at a press conference at the White House today (pictured)
‘With the UK we’re continuing our trade and we’re going to be increasing it very substantially as time goes by.
‘We expect that the UK will be very substantially increased as it relates to trade with the United States. The relationship there also is very good,’ he said.
Washington’s ambassador to Britain, Woody Johnson, backed up the President’s comments saying a new deal would ‘increase our trade substantially’.
‘It will be great for jobs and prosperity on both sides of the Atlantic,’ he said.
International Trade Secretary Liam Fox said Trump had made clear there was a ‘special trade relationship and real ambition on both sides of the Atlantic to enhance this,’ according to a CNN reporter at the White House press conference.
The Brexit backstop: Key questions about the measure
Theresa May’s hopes of getting a Brexit deal through Parliament could hinge on finding a way of ditching the Irish backstop.
But what is it and how could it be replaced?
– What is the backstop?
The backstop is effectively an insurance policy required by the EU to ensure the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic remains open if no wider deal is agreed on future UK/EU trade.
It would see the UK enter into a temporary customs union with the EU if no trade deal is sealed by the end of a transition period after Brexit, which lasts until December 2020 and could be extended to the end of 2022.
The backstop would ensure there is no need for customs checks on goods travelling between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
Northern Ireland would also abide by EU single market rules on goods, to avoid any need for regulatory checks of products crossing the border.
– Why is it needed?
Outside the single market and customs union, the post-Brexit UK could have significantly different tariffs and standards to the European Union.
Brussels fears that the UK’s only land border with the remaining EU could become a conduit for smuggling after Brexit if there is no deal in place, allowing goods which do not meet Brussels’ regulations into the 27 member states.
There are concerns on all sides that the construction of border posts and checkpoints – or even the installation of cameras – could set back the peace process in Ireland by creating a visible symbol of division which might be targeted for attack.
– Who opposes it?
Brexiteers fear it could lock the UK into a permanent customs union with the EU – thus preventing Britain from striking lucrative new trade deals and fulfilling the promises of the 2016 referendum.
The Democratic Unionist Party, which gives Mrs May crucial Commons support, fears that the backstop could lead to divergence in rules between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK – effectively creating a regulatory border in the Irish Sea.
Former Northern Ireland first minister Lord Trimble has said he is considering a judicial review, claiming the imposition of the backstop would breach the Good Friday Agreement.
– What could be done to resolve the issue?
MPs registered their opposition to the backstop in a key vote on January 29, which called on the Government to find “alternative arrangements” instead.
An “alternative arrangements working group” bringing together Brexiteers and former Remainers on the Conservative benches has begun efforts to resolve the issue.
Downing Street has said potential alternatives to the plans in the Withdrawal Agreement include technological solutions, a strict time limit or a unilateral break clause allowing the UK to exit the backstop.
– What does Brussels say?
In public, senior figures have insisted the backstop has to remain in place as the only “all weather” guarantee to avoid a hard border and the Withdrawal Agreement will not be reopened.
EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier said it is the “only operational solution”.
But some on the UK side believe the EU will back down in order to avoid a no-deal Brexit.