Tuesday 17 September 2019

May to hold last-ditch talks in Brussels hours before the EU summit

Meet: Theresa May shakes hands with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker. Photo: Francois Walschaerts/Reuters
Meet: Theresa May shakes hands with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker. Photo: Francois Walschaerts/Reuters

Shaun Connolly

Theresa May will hold last-minute talks in Brussels on Saturday, just hours before a special summit is scheduled to sign off on the EU withdrawal agreement.

The British prime minister announced the surprise move after a meeting with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker in Belgium.

"We have had a very good meeting. We have made further progress. And, as a result, we have given sufficient direction to our negotiators, I hope, for them to be able to resolve the remaining issues," Mrs May said. "And that work will start immediately.

"I now plan to return for further meetings, including with President Juncker on Saturday to discuss how we can bring to a conclusion this process and bring it to a conclusion in the interests of all our people."

The remarks came after suggestions from Brussels that the summit set to approve the draft withdrawal agreement on Sunday could be called off unless progress is made on finalising a political declaration on future relations, with one senior official saying: "We're not there yet."

Reports suggested that Germany's ambassador to the EU had said the document must be finalised by today or Chancellor Angela Merkel would not attend.

Asked whether the UK expected the summit to go ahead, the PM's official spokesman said only: "A summit has been called, an agenda has been published and we look forward to attending."

Earlier, Mrs May and senior government ministers warned that Britain may not leave the European Union if MPs vote down the Brexit deal.

Spain has raised concerns about the treatment of Gibraltar in the proposed text, while France is pushing for better rights of access to UK fishing waters.

Ms Merkel set her face against Tory backbench demands for Britain to have the unilateral power to tear up a proposed "backstop" arrangement for the Border.

She told the German parliament: "We have placed value, and I think this is right, on the fact that Britain cannot decide unilaterally when it ends the state of the customs union, but that Britain must decide this together with the EU."

Commission vice-president Valdis Dombrovskis said that for Sunday's summit to go ahead, "we will need to have agreed beforehand the political declaration on the future relationship and we are not there yet".

Meanwhile, the Dáil has passed a motion supporting the Brexit deal without the need for a vote. As less than 10 TDs opposed the draft document agreed by the UK and EU, the Ceann Comhairle ruled that a formal vote was not necessary.

The vote was symbolical rather than legally binding.

Irish Independent

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