Theresa May faces a potentially bruising encounter with EU leaders today as she travels to Brussels for crunch Brexit talks.
The Prime Minister’s trip comes in the wake of a bitter war of words between the two sides. European Council president Donald Tusk said there was a “special place in hell” for those who pushed for Brexit without a plan.
Mrs May will use the top level talks with European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker, Mr Tusk and other prominent EU figures to press for legally binding guarantees on the Northern Ireland backstop.
At present the backstop, which is intended to prevent the return of a hard border in Ireland, would see the UK continue to obey EU customs rules after a transition period if no wider trade deal had been reached.
Downing Street said that Mrs May is “open to different ways” of achieving her objectives on the backstop.
The PM will use the meetings to state that Parliament has sent “an unequivocal message that change is required”.
One of the PM’s key messages for EU leaders will be that the Commons has now made it clear it could support the Withdrawal Agreement as long as concerns about the backstop are addressed.
Mrs May also intends to stress that Labour leader Mr Corbyn also has concerns about the backstop, so it is not just an issue for the Tories and their DUP allies.
In Mr Corbyn’s letter to the PM, which follows their Brexit meeting last week, he insists that Labour’s Brexit demands must be enshrined in the Political Declaration setting out future relations with the EU.
Mr Corbyn said that securing in law the demands is the only way of achieving Labour support and uniting the country.
He calls for a “permanent and comprehensive UK-wide customs union” that gives the UK a say over future trade deals, and close alignment with the single market, underpinned by “shared institutions”.
Mr Corbyn also calls for “dynamic alignment on rights and protections” in order that UK standards do not fall behind those of the EU, as well as commitments on participation in EU agencies and funding programmes, and “unambiguous agreements on the detail of future security arrangements, including access to the European Arrest Warrant and vital shared databases”.
The letter drew criticism from some pro-EU Labour figures who said it went against Labour’s Brexit stance.
Among the prominent EU figures Mrs May is set to meet is European Parliament Brexit coordinator Guy Verhofstadt who joined in with Mr Tusk’s Brexit “hell” analogy.
Mr Verhofstadt tweeted that Lucifer would not welcome such Brexiteers because “after what they did to Britain they would even manage to divide Hell”.
Meanwhile, the Daily Telegraph reported that Mrs May is seeking to delay another Commons “meaningful vote” on the Government’s Brexit stance until the end of February – just a month before the UK is scheduled to quit the EU on March 29.
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