EU and Britain 'edging closer to compromise'
The EU and the UK yesterday played down the chances of clinching an immediate Brexit divorce deal but diplomats said they were edging closer to a compromise Theresa May hopes will win over the British parliament.
The UK prime minister is trying to get changes to the divorce package before putting it to another vote in parliament. If she fails, Mrs May will have to decide whether to delay Brexit or endanger the world's fifth-largest economy by leaving without a deal on March 29.
British finance minister Philip Hammond raised hopes a revised deal was on the cards by saying MPs could get an opportunity as early as next week to vote. But within hours, a British government source, speaking on condition of anonymity, played down the likelihood of a deal within days: "It doesn't feel like we will have a deal by next week."
Mrs May's biggest problem remains the Irish backstop. The British parliament instructed her to try to replace the backstop by reopening the Withdrawal Agreement, but the EU ruled that out.
Britain's Brexit ministry said negotiations were focused on getting new guarantees on the temporary nature of the Irish backstop.
Diplomats said the two sides were moving towards a separate legal statement - a "parallel declaration" - but there would be "no firm wording before February 28".
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said failure to agree an orderly divorce would be economically devastating.
"If no deal were to happen, and I cannot exclude this, this would have terrible economic and social consequences in Britain and on the continent," he said. "But I am not very optimistic."