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British PM faces improbable Brexit rewrite

This article is more than 12 months old

LONDON British Prime Minister Theresa May pinned her hopes on persuading Brussels to rewrite the Brexit divorce deal but EU leaders insisted yesterday they would not budge.

Having comprehensively rejected the withdrawal agreement last month, MPs on late Tuesday backed an amendment saying they would support the deal if its controversial "backstop" clause concerning the Irish border was removed.

Bolstered by the mandate from parliament, Mrs May made the decision to revisit a pact she sealed with the 27 EU leaders at a summit last month.

With Britain otherwise on course for a chaotic exit from the bloc on March 29, Mrs May admitted she faces a formidable challenge convincing Brussels to re-open an accord that took 18 excruciating months to conclude.

And there was no sign that European leaders were prepared to unpick the backstop in order to salvage the deal.

A spokesman for EU Council President Donald Tusk swiftly insisted the Brexit deal was "not open for renegotiation".

Yesterday, the EU's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier reiterated: "The position of the European Union is very clear".

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told the Funke media group that the existing draft deal was "the best and only solution for an orderly exit".

The backstop insurance policy could legally lock the UK into EU trade rules indefinitely in order to keep the Irish border free-flowing.

Mr Guy Verhofstadt, who heads the European Parliament's six-member Brexit steering group, said the backstop clause was "absolutely needed" and there was hardly room to change the deal.

British MPs also backed a non-binding measure that "rejects Britain leaving the EU without a withdrawal agreement". But they threw out another plan - backed by EU supporters - that would have tried to force through a Brexit delay if no new deal with the EU emerged by February 26.- AFP