'No breakthrough' on Brexit during May's Brussels visit, talks to continue

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British Prime Minister Theresa May (L) meets with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker in Brussels, Belgium, Feb. 7, 2019. [Photo/Xinhua]

Talks with British Prime Minister Theresa May were constructive and robust, but the European Union (EU) will not reopen negotiations on the Brexit deal, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said Thursday in a joint statement.

May arrived in Brussels earlier Thursday to meet Juncker, European Council President Donald Tusk and President of the European Parliament Antonio Tajani for further talks on Brexit concessions despite the EU's repeated refusal to renegotiate.

No retrogression on Brexit deal talks

In the statement read out by European Commission chief spokesperson Margaritis Schinas, Juncker underlined that the Withdrawal Agreement represents a carefully balanced compromise between the EU and Britain, in which both sides have made significant concessions to arrive at a deal.

"President Juncker however expressed his openness to add wording to the Political Declaration agreed by the EU27 and the UK in order to be more ambitious in terms of content and speed when it comes to the future relationship between the European Union and the UK," said the statement.

He also drew attention to the fact that any solution would have to be agreed by the European Parliament and the EU27, said the statement.

For May's part, the prime minister described the context in the British Parliament, and the motivation behind last week's vote in the House of Commons seeking a legally binding change to the terms of the backstop, said the statement.

"She raised various options for dealing with these concerns in the context of the Withdrawal Agreement in line with her commitments to the Parliament," said the statement.

Despite the challenges, the two leaders agreed that their teams should hold talks as to whether a way through can be found that would gain the broadest possible support in the British Parliament and respect the guidelines agreed by the European Council. The prime minister and the president will meet again before the end of February to take stock of these discussions, read the statement.

"There will be a backstop"

After meeting with May in Brussels, European Parliament Brexit Coordinator Guy Verhofstadt said at a press conference that they would be keeping the backstop agreement.

"May assured us that there will be a backstop, there is no question to remove the backstop because it is necessary to securing the Good Friday agreement," Verhofstadt was quoted by the Euronews as saying.

Speaking alongside Verhofstadt, European Parliament President Tajani reiterated that the parliament only supported the withdrawal agreement negotiated by the EU's Brexit chief negotiator Michel Barnier.

"This is the only solution that protects peace in Ireland and the integrity of the internal market," said Tajani, adding that they are committed to revising Ireland's situation if May's red lines changed.

Both warned that a no-deal Brexit would be "catastrophic" for both sides, with Verhofstadt calling "irresponsible" the British MPs who support a no deal, reported Euronews.

Talks to continue

May also held talks with Tusk, one day after the latter told reporters that he had "been wondering what the special place in hell looks like for those who promoted Brexit without even a sketch of a plan how to carry it out safely."

According to the Guardian, May told Tusk the language that he used Wednesday "was not helpful and caused widespread dismay in the United Kingdom."

"The point I made to him was that we should both be working to ensure that we can deliver a closer relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union in the future, and that's what he should be focusing on," quoted the Guardian on its website.

With just 50 days left to Brexit, pressures are mounting on both sides of the English Channel. Shortly after his meeting with May, Tusk tweeted his disappointment. "Still no breakthrough in sight. Talks will continue."

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