Theresa May says EU and UK ‘not far apart’ on backstop

Donald Tusk urges EU leaders to be ‘hopeful and determined’ about deal

British Prime Minister Theresa May has urged the European Union not to allow a stand-off over the so-called Irish backstop to derail the Brexit talks, saying she believed a deal was achievable. Video: UK Parliament TV


Donald Tusk has urged European Union leaders not to give up on reaching a Brexit deal as Theresa May said Britain and the EU were “not far apart” on the Northern Ireland backstop. Downing Street confirmed last night that the prime minister would address EU leaders before dinner at a summit on Wednesday evening.

In a letter to EU leaders ahead of the summit, Mr Tusk, the president of the European Council, said Brexit negotiations, which broke down on Sunday, had proven to be more complicated than some had expected.

“We should nevertheless remain hopeful and determined, as there is goodwill to continue these talks on both sides,” he said.

Ms May blamed the impasse on the EU’s insistence that there should be a Northern Ireland-only backstop in the withdrawal agreement as well as a UK-wide customs backstop in the political declaration on the future relationship between Britain and the EU. The two sides also disagree about whether the backstop should be time-limited, as Britain wishes.

Good progress

The prime minister told MPs, however, that negotiators had made good progress on the withdrawal agreement and the shape and scope of the political declaration.

“We cannot let this disagreement derail the prospects of a good deal and leave us with the no-deal outcome that no one wants. I continue to believe that a negotiated deal is the best outcome for the UK and for the European Union. I continue to believe that such a deal is achievable. And that is the spirit in which I will continue to work with our European partners,” she said.

Democratic Unionist Party leader Arlene Foster has strongly reiterated her view that Northern Ireland must leave the EU on exactly the same terms as the rest of the UK.

During a visit to Dublin to hold separate meetings with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin, Ms Foster rejected any solution that would create what she said were internal barriers between Northern Ireland and Britain.

“We need to make sure that the whole of the United Kingdom leaves the European Union together and there are no differences made between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.”