May puts a brave face on EU summit outcome
British PM says official conclusions of meeting of 27 leaders represented progress
Theresa May: “We will be working expeditiously over the coming days to seek those further assurances that I believe MPs will need.” Photographer: Jasper Juinen/Bloomberg
Theresa May sought to put a brave face on the outcome of the summit as she left Brussels on Friday afternoon, telling reporters that the other EU leaders had moved in her direction. She said the official conclusions of a meeting of the other 27 leaders, which had been amended to remove a promise of further reassurances on the Northern Ireland backstop, represented progress.
“Those take us forward. Those are welcome. This is the clearest statement we have had yet from the European Union that it is their intention for the backstop never to be necessary, that it is their intention to ensure that if it were necessary it was only temporary and that it’s their intention to work quickly with us once we’ve seen the deal being agreed in parliamentary terms, that they will work quickly with us to ensure that we start those negotiations about a future partnership,” she said.
The prime minister postponed a vote in parliament on the Brexit deal this week after it became clear it would be defeated heavily. But she said she was confident she could win further reassurances from the EU on the backstop before bringing the vote back to parliament next month.
“There is work to be done. It’s clear that we can look at this issue of further clarification and that has been something I’ve been discussing with a number of EU leaders and President [Donald] Tusk and President [Jean-Claude] Juncker. We will be bringing the vote back to parliament before January 21st. So we will be working expeditiously over the coming days to seek those further assurances that I believe MPs will need,” she said.
Mrs May was seen admonishing Mr Juncker before the start of Friday’s session at the summit, after he had described her presentation to the leaders the previous evening as “nebulous”. She said afterwards that she had been “crystal clear” in her presentation and that Mr Juncker had explained his remark.
“I had a robust discussion with Jean-Claude Juncker. I think that’s the sort of discussion you’re able to have when you’ve developed a working relationship and you work together. And what came out of that was his clarity that when he used that particular phrase he’d been talking about the general level of debate. I had further conversations with him through the morning,” she said.
German chancellor Angela Merkel said it was essential that there would be no renegotiating or amendment of the withdrawal agreement, the single market is guaranteed and the Belfast Agreement is preserved.
She said the statement in the official conclusions about the backstop were what the EU 27 had to offer in terms of reassurance but she did not rule out making further clarifications.
“These are the assurances we have given to the British prime minister. Now we await her response,” she said.
”We want to be helpful, but within the framework I have been describing. We don’t want to amend the withdrawal agreement and we will have to continue to work on the future relationship anyway. So we have explained that to Theresa May.”