Brexit: EU says there is ‘nothing we can do’ on deal, after May says agreement will be ‘improved’ before MPs vote on it

The prime minister had pledged the deal would change, but it cannot be altered in a binding way without EU approval

Jon Stone
Monday 20 May 2019 14:20 BST
EU says it can't do anything to help on Brexit talks: 'London talks to London'

The EU Commission has confirmed that it will be making no changes to the Brexit withdrawal agreement following a claim by Theresa May that MPs would be voting on a new, better deal.

A spokesperson told reporters in Brussels that collapsed talks between the government and Labour were “a Westminster process” and that there was “nothing that we can do at this stage”.

“I think it’s clear that we’re in a situation where London talks to London, so there is nothing that we can do at this stage, as we think we said on many occasions in the past,” the spokesperson said.

“When this process in London is over, then of course we are here, within the caveats that you all know, ready to engage, and of course, keeping always the 31 October deadline very present in the picture.”

Over the weekend the prime minister claimed she would bring forward a “bold” offer and “new and improved” deal for MPs, who will be voting on the deal for a fourth time in early June. Nobody in Westminster expects the deal to pass.

On Monday, a Downing Street spokesperson would not elaborate on what significant changes would be made to the withdrawal agreement, but if there actually are any they are likely to be cosmetic and non-binding.

Brussels has long washed its hands of the negotiation process and for months said it will not renegotiate the deal. There have been no further talks between the UK and EU this year.

Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, also on Monday reiterated the bloc’s position that “the EU is ready to be more ambitious in the political declaration if UK so wishes”. The prime minister has however refused to countenance such changes in talks with Labour – which would need to include a customs union and single market access to bring the opposition party on side.

Any move to do so would be hugely unpopular with Tory MPs who do not want a close economic relationship with the EU, and would not address their existing concerns – which mostly relate to the controversial Northern Ireland backstop arrangement.

The commission spokesperson also confirmed that “for as long as the United Kingdom stays in the European Union the United Kingdom will have the full rights and obligations of all participating member states” – including the right to nominate a commissioner after this week’s European parliament elections.

MPs’ next vote on the withdrawal agreement is scheduled for the first full week of June, though a specific day has yet to be publicly chosen. British voters will participate in European parliament elections on Thursday and elect MPs to the bloc’s parliament, after the prime minister again failed in her pledge that Britian would leave before the contest.

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