May brings Christmas wish list to Brussels but the EU looks unlikely to deliver | News | DW | 13.12.2018
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May brings Christmas wish list to Brussels but the EU looks unlikely to deliver

Embattled UK Prime Minister Theresa May is hoping to win concessions from the EU over the terms of Brexit. While EU politicians have suggested they want to help, they insist the current deal is not open to renegotiation.

Watch video 02:02

May seeks EU assurances in bid to pass Brexit deal

Theresa May, already walking a tightrope at home, took her act on the road to Brussels for an EU summit on Thursday with her Christmas wish list in hand. The British prime minister is hoping her colleagues in Brussels will give her concessions that will mollify UK political opponents to the degree that they will back the Brexit deal negotiated with the EU.

Read more: Theresa May seeks Brussels Brexit lifeline after confidence vote

May, who survived a Conservative Party no-confidence vote Wednesday, has been roundly criticized on both sides of the English Channel for postponing a vote on her plan in parliament on Tuesday in the face of certain defeat. She is now hoping to convince European politicians to make changes to the current rules on Brexit.

"My focus now is to get those assurances that we need to get this deal over the line because I genuinely believe it's in the best interests of both sides, of the UK and the EU. I don't expect an immediate breakthrough, but what I do hope is that we can start to work as quickly as possible on the assurances that are necessary," said May.

Watch video 01:01

May: 'We need to get this deal over the line'

Not in a giving mood

According to EU politicians speaking ahead of Thursday evening's negotiations, the prospect of May getting what she wants seems very unlikely.

Read more: The draft Brexit deal: What you need to know

French President Emmanuel Macron, speaking Thursday morning, was quick to point out that the ball was in May's court.

"We can have a political discussion tonight, but the legal framework and the agreement that were negotiated are not supposed to change," the French leader said.

Macron added: "It is important to avoid any ambiguity: We cannot reopen the legal agreement, we can't renegotiate what was negotiated for several months. It's up to Theresa May to tell us what political solution she expects to pursue to find a majority for this deal."

Read more: Opinion: Britain, you haven't got time

Clarification and cosmetic changes 

Any changes will likely be cosmetic in nature and fail to affect the substance of the legally binding, 585-page withdrawal agreement, despite May's avowed aim of attaining "legal and political assurances" that will satisfy her critics at home.

The most EU politicians have thus far said they may be willing to offer are wording changes that would "clarify" the contentious issue of the so-called "backstop," which would keep the UK in the EU's customs union in order to avoid reinstating a hard border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Neither anti-EU nor pro-EU politicians in the UK are happy about the plan, as it would keep the UK from signing trade agreements indefinitely as well as subjecting it to EU rules that it has no part in shaping.

Watch video 02:23

'Brexit hurts me every day'

'De-mystifying' the backstop

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, addressing the issue, said: "Today is about de-mystifying this whole Northern Ireland backstop. Nobody in the EU wants to use it. But we need to have it. How to make that clarification on paper — that's something we have to look into tonight."

Rutte's sentiments were echoed by Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, "There is no way we are opening the agreement, but we can try to agree on a clarification."

Kurz also touched on the difficulty European politicians are having in their efforts to help May, because they don't quite know what she wants to bring home to skeptics: "Not all the arguments of Brexit supporters are rational."

Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite was far more direct, tweeting: "Brexit Christmas wish: finally decide what you really want and Santa will deliver."

May has promised that she will present an "improved" Brexit for a vote on January 21, 2019. The UK is set to officially leave the EU on March 29, 2019. 

js/sms (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)

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