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Further EU-UK Brexit negotiations to take place

At talks in Brussels, British premier Theresa May has raised 'various options' for getting around the UK's difficulties with the Withdrawal Agreement. More meetings are planned.

With less than two months to go before the UK leaves the European Union, Prime Minister May headed to Brussels looking for changes to the Withdrawal Agreement that could gain the support of the House of Commons. Her last effort was rejected in a record parliamentary defeat.

May was greeted by European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker saying the 27 EU partner countries would not renegotiate the terms of the divorce agreement. 

Speaking after her meetings in Brussels on Thursday, May was upbeat on the prospects of the UK leaving the bloc with a deal: "What I see and hear from leaders is a desire for us to work together to ensure that we can deliver the UK leaving the European Union with a deal," she said. 

'Robust but constructive'

A 90-minute meeting between Juncker and May was described by the European Commission president's spokesman as "robust but constructive." May and Juncker are due to meet again before the end of the month "to take stock" of progress.

In the meantime, talks would be held to discuss "whether a way through can be found that would gain the broadest possible support in the UK Parliament and respect the guidelines agreed by the European Council," Juncker said.

"It is not going to be easy, but crucially President Juncker and I have agreed that talks will now start to find a way through this, to find a way to get this over the line and to deliver on the concerns that Parliament has so we get a majority in Parliament," May said.

While repeating the EU position that the Withdrawal Agreement would not be renegotiated, Juncker did express "his openness to add wording to the Political Declaration agreed by the EU27 and the UK in order to be more ambitious in terms of content and speed when it comes to the future relationship between the European Union and the UK." 

Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar with EU Council President Donald Tusk in Brussels

Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar with EU Council President Donald Tusk in Brussels

Talking to Tusk

May went on to meet with EU Council President Donald Tusk later on Thursday. Tusk had attracted attention on Wednesday as he expressed frustrations with the lack of planning from the UK side: "I've been wondering what that special place in hell looks like for those who promoted Brexit without even a sketch of a plan [for] how to carry it out safely." 

While Tusk warned there was "no breakthrough in sight" after meeting May, the British leader was more optimistic. 

"I am clear that I am going to deliver Brexit," May said after their meeting. "I am going to deliver it on time, that is what I am going to do for the British public. I will be negotiating hard in the coming days to do just that."

The prospect of further meetings gave rise to suggestions of an extension of Article 50 and a delay to Brexit, reducing the prospect of a 'no-deal' exit for the UK from the EU at the end of March. 

Merkel: Find solutions

During a visit to Slovakia on Thursday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she thought it was possible to resolve the Brexit stalemate: "I believe it is possible to find solutions without reopening the Withdrawal Agreement," Merkel said.

Cross-party consensus in London?

Opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn wrote to May setting out Labour's terms for backing her over Brexit. In his letter, sent on Wednesday, there was no mention of a referendum or protecting the rights of EU citizens in the UK, or UK citizens in the EU.

Instead he called for changes to the political declaration to include a UK-wide customs union, close alignment with the single market, alignment on rights and protections, future UK participation in EU agencies and agreement on security arrangements. 

Lawmakers in London are expected to debate the Brexit deal again on February 14.

jm/ng (Reuters, AP)

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