May heads back to Brussels to seek changes to Brexit divorce deal

British prime minister returns to Brussels looking for concessions on divorce agreement from European leaders.

    Britain is due to leave the EU in around seven weeks but has yet to secure a divorce deal [File: Peter Nicholls/Reuters]
    Britain is due to leave the EU in around seven weeks but has yet to secure a divorce deal [File: Peter Nicholls/Reuters]

    British Prime Minister Theresa May will urge European Union leaders to work with her to change the Brexit deal and help her win the backing of the United Kingdom's parliament, despite the EU's repeated insistence that it is not open to renegotiation.

    May is due to arrive in Brussels on Thursday and is expected to tell European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and president of the European Council, Donald Tusk, that she wants to work "urgently" with them to secure changes that she believes can secure support for the deal in the UK parliament.

    The talks are expected to focus on the deadlock over the border between Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland.

    May is seeking changes to the "backstop" protocol in the withdrawal agreement, an insurance policy that is designed to ensure that the border remains open, regardless of whether the UK and EU reach a future deal on trade.

    Some parliamentarians want her to remove the provision entirely, while others say they will accept legally-binding assurances that it would not lead the UK to being trapped in the EU's sphere indefinitely.


    British legislators have remained deadlocked over Brexit since parliament overwhelmingly rejected May's' deal, painstakingly negotiated over 18 months with the EU.

    May needs to convince a reluctant EU to change the withdrawal agreement in order to secure the backing of the British parliament before March 29, when the UK is due to leave.

    If no agreement has been approved by then, Britain faces an uncertain future. It could leave the bloc without a deal, which some businesses say would cripple the country's economy.

    Other options include a second referendum, holding early parliamentary elections, a delay to the Brexit process or not leaving the EU at all.

    May will tell the EU leaders that parliament had delivered "an unequivocal message that change is required", her office said, according to Reuters news agency.

    "The government now wants urgently to work with the EU to secure such changes ... We must show determination and do what it takes to now get the deal over the line."

    The EU, and particularly Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, say they will not re-open the agreement, underlining that the political instability in Britain only further proved the need for the backstop.

    Al Jazeera's Paul Brennan, reporting from Belfast where May met political leaders on Wednesday, said that different parties in Northern Ireland appeared to have different priorities in making changes to the backstop and the overall Brexit deal.


    "The purpose of her visit here was to try and work out what the parties will accept and it seems a very confused picture is emerging," he said.

    "Sinn Fein, the Republican party which has seven seats in the Westminster parliament but doesn't actually sit and vote in London, has accused Theresa May of bad faith for trying to re-open the withdrawal agreement and change the backstop arrangement.

    "However, the DUP, which does sit in London, and upon which Theresa May relies for her parliamentary majority, has insisted that to try to reform the backstop but leave it in place is not enough. They want the backstop totally replaced. They are not happy with it being in the withdrawal agreement at all."

    Frustration with Britain boiled over on Wednesday when Tusk openly wondered what "that special place in hell looks like, for those who promoted Brexit, without even a sketch of a plan how to carry it out safely".

    But even though both sides say they do not want Britain to leave without a deal, a breakthrough on Thursday is unlikely

    May described the meetings in Brussels "as part of a process leading to the government bringing back" a new vote on a Brexit deal as soon as possible.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies