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29th Jan 2019

Theresa May says she will re-open Brexit negotiations with the EU

Withdrawal agreement unlock

Oli Dugmore

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 21: Theresa May leaves Number 10 Downing Street on January 21, 2019 in London, England. British Prime Minister Theresa May is due to address the House of Commons this afternoon outlining how she proposes to move forward with Brexit. (Photo by Jack Taylor/Getty Images)

Withdrawal agreement unlock

Theresa May says she will re-open the Brexit withdrawal agreement with the EU in order to get her deal through parliament.

A Downing Street spokesperson said the prime minister has told EU leaders she wants to resume negotiations and conversations between the two parties are ongoing.

“President Juncker is permanently available and in permanent contact,” a spokesperson for the European Commission said.

Only two months ago, on December 4, the prime minister told MPs that the withdrawal agreement could not be re-opened.

May told her cabinet her intention is to revisit the withdrawal agreement and seek legally-binding adjustments to the backstop in order to secure sufficient parliamentary support for it to pass the Commons, the PA reports.

What changes the EU would ever agree to remain to be seen. Particularly on the backstop, where there is no obvious reason for the bloc to act against the interests of one of its members, Ireland, in changing the backstop.

BRUSSELS, BELGIUM - DECEMBER 14: President of the European Council Donald Tusk, (C) President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker (R) and Sebastian Kurz, Chancellor of Austria, (R), speak during the final press conference of the European Council Meeting on December 14, 2018 in Brussels, Belgium. Mrs May returned to the EU summit to secure greater assurances on the temporary nature of the Irish Backstop, in turn hoping to persuade MPs to vote her Brexit Deal through Parliament in the coming weeks.(Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images,)

The EU Council’s ex-director general of legal services, Jean-Claude Piris said: “Too many people think that if London is requesting an Article 50 extension, the European Council 27 will automatically agree, by fear of a no-deal. I don’t think that is obvious. I think the answer will be negative if the motive were to reopen the withdrawal agreement or its backstop provisions.”

May will return to the Commons “as soon as possible” with a revised Brexit deal for MPs to vote on, Downing Street said, and that if none is reached by February 13, she will make a statement to MPs then.

This all may seem confusing, particularly to those who were listening to Theresa May on December 4 when she told the Commons the withdrawal agreement “cannot be re-opened.”

She said: “Given the rigorous fight that we had in the negotiations to  ensure that there were certain elements that were in the interests of the UK, notably around fisheries and other issues, I caution honourable members that not only has the EU made it clear that the withdrawal agreement cannot be reopened.

“We have agreed the deal and the deal is there but it is not the one-way street that honourable members would perhaps wish it to be.”

Meanwhile, the Labour party is rallying around an amendment tabled by Yvette Cooper.

It would create space in parliament’s timetable for MPs to force Theresa May to seek an extension of Article 50 to the end of 2019 if no Brexit deal has been agreed by February 26.

A Labour party source told the Guardian: “We’re backing the Cooper amendment to reduce the threat of the chaos of a no deal exit. The Cooper bill could give MPs a temporary window to agree a deal that can bring the country together.

“We will aim to amend the Cooper bill to shorten the possible article 50 extension.”

Procedure and legislation swirl around Westminster while the rest of the country wonders what the fuck is going on. The three most cataclysmic outcomes are a general election, no deal or no Brexit on March 29 at all.