May Said to Request Time Limit on Irish Backstop: Brexit Update

(Bloomberg) -- Theresa May pledged to deliver Brexit “on time” after both sides agreed to send their teams back into the negotiating room for the first time since last year. But if May doesn’t clinch concessions by next week, U.K. lawmakers will have another chance to force her to rewrite her plans on Feb. 14. The premier is said to have asked for post-Brexit arrangements for the Irish border to be time-limited, an idea the EU has repeatedly ruled out.

Key Developments:

  • May promises to deliver Brexit “on time” after talks in Brussels. She is said to have requested a time limit on the Irish backstop, an idea that has been rejected repeatedly by the EU
  • EU and U.K. negotiating teams to resume talks; Barclay, Barnier to meet on Monday
  • Bank of England says damage from Brexit has increased
  • Government sticks to plan to present a motion on Brexit on Feb. 14, which MPs will be able to amend to reshape Brexit or even delay it. (This isn’t a vote on the deal itself)

May Said to Request Time Limit to Backstop (3:45 p.m.)

Theresa May asked several times for the European Union to allow a time-limit on the Irish backstop arrangement during talks in Brussels, two people familiar with the discussions said. May made the request in a meeting with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier.

The EU has for months said that it won’t allow a time-limit on the backstop -- which is aimed at preventing a hard border in Ireland and effectively keeps the U.K. in a customs union with the bloc. The EU officials repeated the rejection in the meeting, said the people, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the talks were private.

May Pledges U.K. to Leave EU ‘On Time’ (3:35 p.m.)

On her way out of meetings in Brussels, May pledged to deliver Brexit “on time’’ despite the growing view among British politicians that necessary legislative changes won’t be passed before the March 29 deadline.

“My work is to deliver Brexit and to deliver it on time and I’m going to be negotiating that in the coming days,’’ May told reporters.“I’ve had a good series of meetings today. We’ve had robust discussions but they’ve been constructive.’’

The prime minister reiterated that the changes she’s seeking to the so-called Irish backstop withdrawal agreement must be legally binding for U.K. lawmakers to approve a deal.

“Taking back changes to the backstop, together with the other work we’re doing on workers’ rights and other issues, will deliver a stable majority in Parliament, and that’s what I’ll continue to work for,’’ she said.

May said she’d also raised Donald Tusk’s remark that there was a “special place in hell’’ for Brexiteers who had no plan for how to deliver the U.K’s safe departure from the bloc. The prime minister said she told Tusk his comments were “unhelpful’’ and had caused “dismay’’ in the U.K.

European Parliament Offers May Solutions (2:25 p.m.)

May has just finished her latest meeting in Brussels, this time with members of the European Parliament.

The Parliament’s Brexit coordinator Guy Verhofstadt told reporters after the discussion that May told them “there will be backstop,” repeating what she said earlier this week about the contentious arrangement for the Irish border. She just wants it changed, not scrapped altogether.

Verhofstadt said the political declaration -- that’s the part of the Brexit deal covering future relations -- could be the key to solving the current impasse, by making it “more binding, more precise, also on the issue of the backstop, explaining and saying very clearly that it’s insurance and not more than that.”

It’s worth remembering that although the European Parliament doesn’t have an official role in the Brexit negotiations, it does get a veto over the final deal after it’s been approved by British lawmakers.



Barclay, Barnier to Meet in Strasbourg Monday (12:40 p.m.)

Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay will meet the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, at the European Parliament in Strasbourg on Monday, the spokesman for the European Commission said.

Leadsom: ‘Confident’ Brexit Laws to Pass in Time (12:35 p.m.)

“I’m confident that we will have the legislation in place by Brexit day,” Leader of the House of Commons Andrea Leadsom tells Parliament. She was asked several times to confirm the U.K.’s statute book would be ready in time for Brexit; skepticism has been growing since the government canceled a planned parliamentary recess this month to increase the available business hours.

Brexit Negotiating Teams Will Resume Talks (12:05 p.m.)

May and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker agreed to send their negotiating teams back to the table to discuss “whether a way through can be found that would gain the broadest possible support in the U.K. Parliament.”

It would be the first time that the two teams have met since the deal was struck in November and follows "robust and constructive" talks between May and Juncker, according to a joint statement.

But Juncker said the EU will not reopen the Withdrawal Agreement -- that’s the part that includes the much-loathed backstop for the Irish border. The non-binding political declaration on future ties is up for discussion, according to the statement.

The question is whether that will be enough for pro-Brexit hardliners at home.

Labour Divisions on Show (12:05 p.m.)

Owen Smith, who challenged Jeremy Corbyn for the Labour leadership after his lackluster performance in the 2016 referendum campaign, said he "and a lot of other people are considering right now" whether they should quit the party over its Brexit policy. He wants Labour to back a second referendum.

“I may be asked by the Labour Party to row in behind a policy position that they know and the government knows will make the people I represent poorer and that is at odds with the internationalist social democratic values that I believe in,” Smith told BBC Radio. "We should be asking people if they’re content now the government says they’re going to be poorer after the decision they took in 2016.”

The Daily Mirror reported that Corbyn is writing to MPs to reassure them that a second referendum is still on the table, despite it not being mentioned in a letter he sent May this week setting out his Brexit goals.

May Is ‘Updating’ EU on U.K.’s Work on Deal (12 p.m.)

May’s spokeswoman, Alison Donnelly, told reporters the premier’s talks in Brussels will be “discussing the ongoing urgent work, updating them on the progress we are making” on Brexit -- indicating negotiations are not yet at the stage where the U.K. is presenting firm proposals on how to revise the deal.

Donnelly reiterated the government’s line that changes to the Withdrawal Agreement on the Irish backstop must be legally binding. “That was never going to be easy,” she said. “We must get this right.”

U.K Sticks to Plan For Brexit Motion on Feb. 14 (11:30 a.m.)

Leader of the House Andrea Leadsom confirmed that if no new deal has been reached by Feb. 13, then the government will present a motion on Feb. 14 to allow MPs to debate and vote on possible ways forward. May will update lawmakers on progress.

The motion will be amendable, Leadsom said. That means lawmakers who are trying to maintain closer ties to the EU, or delay or even reverse Brexit, will have a chance to present their proposals and have them voted on. It’s similar to the votes on Jan. 29.

There is some wiggle room still as to whether the voting happens on the Feb. 14. A government spokesman raised the prospect that the debate could be extended if MPs want more time. But the government’s intention is to hold the votes on Feb. 14.

This isn’t another “meaningful vote” on the divorce deal. No date has been set for that, though Leadsom left the door open to that being scheduled next week in the unlikely event May has a breakthrough in Brussels and has a new deal to bring home.

On Wednesday, a government official had suggested the vote on the motion could be postponed.

No-Deal Risk to Free EU Roaming (11:15 a.m.)

Culture Secretary Jeremy Wright admitted to lawmakers the government is powerless to prevent roaming surcharges from EU mobile phone companies if Britain tumbles out of the bloc without a deal on March 29.

“If they chose to charge at a wholesale level British mobile network operating companies, then one of two things happens,” Wright said. “Either that cost is passed on to those who are using their mobile phones abroad or that cost is spread across all mobile phone users on that network. That’s the choice."

Wright was replying to an urgent question from Labour’s Tom Watson, who accused him of “trying to slip out a policy change of national significance” and caving in to the “lobbying might” of mobile phone networks.

The flap comes after the government pushed out a draft piece of secondary legislation earlier in the week that means travelers to the EU from the U.K. may face mobile phone surcharges after March 29 if Britain tumbles out of the bloc without a deal.

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