European leaders are struggling to find a way to help Theresa May convince MPs to back the Brexit deal, with one minister warning the block could do “nothing more.”
The prime minister spent the Christmas holidays chasing assurances over the consequences of the deal for the UK and will speak to EU chief Jean-Claude Juncker again this week.
Irish prime minister Leo Varadkar has confirmed that the EU is “happy” to give assurances that they “don’t want to trap the UK into anything” in response to claims the Irish border backstop could be used to keep the UK in the customs union.
The assurances are expected to be delivered in an exchange of letters on the eve of next Tuesday’s vote – but the EU has not so far found a form of words which would provide the game changing boost needed by May to win the vote.
French Europe minister Nathalie Loiseau said on Tuesday that the EU will only restate its long-standing position.
Speaking at an EU meeting in Brussels, she said: “We have said it repeatedly … We all want to have a fruitful profitable relationship with the UK in the future so the backstop is just a last resort solution.
“These are political assurances but there’s nothing more we can do. The withdrawal agreement is good both for the UK and for the EU. We should stick to it.”
Romanian Europe minister George Ciamba expressed the EU’s reticence to intervene in domestic UK politics for fear of making the situation more difficult for May.
He said: “What is important now is to say that we should not take any stances which could damage or endanger any chance of putting the deal on and having it passed through the House of Commons and working in a way to put it back on track on what was supposed to be the timetable for the 29th of March.”
There are unconfirmed reports that the EU will convene Europe ministers for an emergency meeting on the day after the vote on the Brexit deal is scheduled to take place.
Loiseau insisted the UK had not “yet” raised the possibility of extending Article 50, but that is one of the scenarios likely to be discussed if the meeting goes ahead as the EU will need to give its consent for Brexit to be delayed.
UK Brexit minister Martin Callanan ruled out that prospect and said May would update MPs on Wednesday about the assurances over the backstop she is seeking from the EU.
“We’re all focused in the government on winning parliamentary support in the vote that’s coming up next week,” he told reporters as he arrived at the meeting in Brussels.
“The prime minister will be updating parliament tomorrow and she will be talking about the clarifications, the reassurances that parliament is seeking that the backstop will not be permanent.
Asked whether there would be new re-assurances, Callanan replied: “Let’s wait and see what the prime minister has to say tomorrow. Obviously she has had a lot of important discussions over the Christmas break with other European leaders and I’m sure she would want to update parliament.”