Brexit Accord Is Already Being Hammered Out, Spain Says

(Bloomberg) -- A Brexit agreement is already being hammered out in Brussels, according to Spain’s foreign minister, as the bloc seeks reassuring language that can convince British members of Parliament to back the deal.

Prime Minister Theresa May is heading back to Brussels on Wednesday, seeking changes to the divorce agreement. Even as European Union leaders are sounding downbeat -- with Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker saying Brexit is wasting his time -- Foreign Minister Josep Borrell sees progress being made. A summit in Egypt on Sunday is being touted as a possible opportunity for talks.

“I think the accord is being hammered out now, without having to go to Sharm El-Sheikh to do it,” Borrell said in an interview at the ministry’s palace in Madrid. "There’s contact all the time."

The pound rose on his comments, and traded at $1.3062 at 5:15 p.m. in London.

The EU has repeatedly said it won’t reopen the withdrawal agreement to rewrite the most contentious part of the deal -- the so-called Irish backstop, which seeks to guarantee no new border in Ireland after the split. Instead, they are working on a legal text or legal interpretations that can reassure the U.K. about the risks the backstop poses to Britain’s ability to break free of EU rules long-term.

"The EU’s position is that the treaty won’t be reopened, but can be interpreted, or complemented with explanations that may be satisfactory," said the minister, who met EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier in Madrid on Tuesday. Borrell was cautious as to whether what’s on offer will be enough for U.K. politicians.

May has sent her most senior legal adviser, Attorney General Geoffrey Cox, to talk to officials in Brussels. She’s hoping that if he is satisfied with the changes, he will be able to convince Brexit supporters to back them too.

Her aim is to bring a deal back to Parliament as soon as possible, and if she hasn’t done that by Feb. 27, she risks lawmakers wresting control of the whole process from her. May is hoping to be able to show Parliament she’s made significant progress on the backstop by then, a person familiar with her plans said on Wednesday.

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