Last Update 14:41
Tuesday, 19 November 2019

UK's May hoping for Brexit progress at Egypt summit

AFP , Sunday 24 Feb 2019
British Prime Minister Theresa May arrives to the International Congress Centre on February 24, 2019 (Photo: AFP)
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Prime Minister Theresa May is making headway in efforts to amend the terms of Brexit and is hoping for further progress when she meets EU leaders in Egypt, a cabinet colleague said Sunday.

But Environment Secretary Michael Gove downplayed the prospect of a breakthrough that could allow the House of Commons to vote again on the withdrawal agreement this week.

"I understand that progress is being made," he told BBC television. Asked whether a new vote by MPs was imminent, he said: "I don't know."

May was headed Sunday to an EU-Arab League summit in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.

"It's an opportunity for her to talk to other EU leaders in order to try to make further progress," Gove said, as Brexit day looms on March 29.

May has face-to-face talks planned with European Council president Donald Tusk, Germany's Angela Merkel and Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar.

After MPs rejected her withdrawal deal last month, May is seeking to amend its most controversial element, the so-called Irish backstop clause.

This would keep Britain in a customs union with the EU after Brexit if and until another way -- for example, a free trade deal -- were found to keep the border with Ireland free-flowing.

The EU has said it will not reopen the text, but is looking at what "guarantees" could be given to reassure MPs that the backstop would be temporary.

Gove said the government was still discussing various ways to address MPs' concerns with the EU.

"It could be a time limit, it could be a unilateral exit mechanism," he said -- citing two options Brussels has publicly rejected.

He added: "And it could be another legally powerful protocol or addition to the treaty that makes it clear that we would not be bound in the backstop indefinitely against our will."

May has promised to update parliament on her efforts on Tuesday and either put hold a new vote on the deal or allow MPs on Wednesday to debate their own ideas for the way forward.

Three of her cabinet ministers on Saturday warned that if there was no breakthrough this week then parliament would vote to delay Brexit rather than risk leaving the EU with no deal.

Speaking to activists in her Conservative party on Saturday, May said: "In the very final stages of this process, the worst thing we could do is lose our focus."

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