11 Dec 18
THERESA May last night rejected a ‘window dressing’ offer from EU chiefs to help save her Brexit deal after a whistle stop tour of capitals ended in failure.
The PM mounted a frenetic 1,500 mile round trip to The Hague, Berlin and Brussels after the deep humiliation of being forced to pull a Commons vote on her EU agreement on Monday.
Theresa May was offered ‘a piece of paper’ that clarifies the terms of the backstop
She is asking the EU to issue a binding promise that Britain will not get stuck in the hated Irish backstop endlessly, in what is being seen as the final roll of the dice of her Premiership.
The Sun can reveal that Mrs May was offered “a piece of paper” that clarifies the terms of the backstop – which keeps the UK in the customs union – but makes no material changes to it.
Downing Street aides were glum last night as the daunting scale of Mrs May’s task to win round the EU emerged.
A No10 figure travelling with the PM yesterday told The Sun: “What today has shown is it’s going to be really difficult. We are at the beginning of something, not the end.
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“We’re going to need a lot more than what we have been offered today.”
It has emerged that Mrs May is prepared to hold out for up to five weeks and delay the Commons vote until January 21 if she has to.
The PM had breakfast with Dutch premier Mark Rutte, lunch with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, tea with EU Council President Donald Tusk before a final coffee with EU Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker.
The trip was initially beset by a PR disaster, when Mrs May got locked in the back of her Mercedes limo on arrival at the Chancellery in Berlin.
Theresa May and Angela Merkel meet on the red carpet in Berlin
As Mrs Merkel waited on the red carpet and TV cameras looked on, the PM’s embarrassed police bodyguards struggled to free her for 15 seconds.
Putting a brave face on the day, Mrs May said the meetings showed “a shared determination to deal with this issue and address this problem”.
She added: “We don’t want the backstop to be used and if it is we want to be certain that it’s only temporary”.
While offering the PM warm words in public, one after each other EU leaders made it clear that the deal struck three weeks ago could not be reopened.
Theresa May with Donald Tusk after discussing Irish backstop problem
Mr Tusk said his talks with Mrs May had been “long and frank”, adding in a tweet: “Clear that EU27 wants to help. The question is how”.
Angela Merkel brutally shut down attempts to redraw the backstop yesterday, telling the PM at a meeting in Berlin there is “no way to change” the deal.
The Chancellor also said she should speak to Brussels, not Member States, and afterwards told her own MPs there won’t be any more Brexit talks.
Mr Rutte would only describe his long meeting with Mrs May, at which the two leaders were pictured sitting awkwardly far apart, as a “useful dialogue”.
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Before Mrs May’s arrival in Berlin, Germany’s European Affairs Minister Michael Roth was even blunter.
Mr Roth said: “I hope that they wish each other a Merry Christmas, but there will definitely not be any assurances that we will reopen negotiations.“
“The negotiators are not in Berlin, they are here in Brussels”.
Mr Juncker also insisted there is “no room whatsoever for renegotiation” and only “further clarifications and further interpretations” was the PM’s best hope.
EU President Jean-Claude Juncker has insisted there is no room for negotiation over Brexit deal
The PM will hold an even tougher showdown today with Irish PM Leo Varadkar, flying to Dublin tonight after the Cabinet’s weekly meeting.
Ahead of it, the Taoiseach infuriated No10 by issuing a call to the House of Commons to rise up against the PM.
He told Irish MPs yesterday that he would “never compromise on the written letter of the backstop”.
Mr Varadkar also said he was ready to stare down Mrs May and see Parliament step in as “there’s a majority that the UK should not be plunged into a no-deal”.
Jacob Rees-Mogg has accused Theresa May of ‘modelling herself on Humpty Dumpty’
He added: “It is in their hands at any point in time to take the threat of no-deal off the table either by revoking Article 50 or if that’s a step too far, by extending it”.
At home, a Brexiteer Cabinet minister stepped up the pressure on Mrs May to say that only “legally binding assurances” on the backstop would be acceptable.
Commons Leader Andrea Leadsom also insisted a “back to the drawing board” approach was now needed rather than cosmetics.
Leading backbench Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg accused Mrs May of “modelling herself on Humpty Dumpty”, adding: “Her words mean ‘just what she chooses to mean – nothing more and nothing less’”.
Mr Rees-Mogg told talkRADIO: “The PM goes off to Brussels, gets a nice cup of cocoa and it means nothing.
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“She will come back with a deal and it will still not pass.”
Other Tory MPs said it was time for Britain to strat preparing to walk away without any deal.
Former deputy speaker Nigel Evans said: “If there’s not going to be a meeting of minds, the Prime Minister might as well come home and prepare us for leaving on World Trade Organisation rules and the European Union doesn’t get its £39 billion.
“They need that money. I think the PM should just give her telephone number for Juncker to speed dial her.”
[boxout intro=”SIR John Major yesterday called for the clock to be stopped on Brexit until the Irish backstop is sorted.”]The former PM said a return of a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic risks reviving tensions behind the deadly Troubles. Speaking in Dublin he said: “Nearby graveyards bear witness to how bad were those days. “No sensible person can wish to return to them.”
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