Tusk to meet May ahead of summit as EU drafts Brexit text

AFP , Thursday 13 Dec 2018

European Council President Donald Tusk attends a news conference after the extraordinary EU leaders summit to finalise and formalise the Brexit agreement in Brussels, Belgium November 25, 2018. (Photo: Reuters)

EU President Donald Tusk will meet British Prime Minister Theresa May Thursday for "last-minute talks" to try to help save her beleaguered Brexit deal ahead of a crucial European summit.

"Ahead of #EUCO I will meet PM @theresa_may for last-minute talks," Tusk tweeted.

May comes to the EU summit in Brussels after postponing an attempt to ratify the Brexit treaty, only to have to face down a bid from fellow Conservative MPs to unseat her.

The other 27 EU countries have drawn up a six-paragraph statement designed to appease concerns about the "Irish backstop" in the Brexit withdrawal and ease the deal's passage through the British parliament.

According to European diplomats, the leaders will not allow the backstop nor the deal itself -- which was only agreed at the end of last month -- to be renegotiated at this stage.

But the statement, which could be issued at the summit, would declare that any backstop "would only be in place for a short period and only as long as strictly necessary."

And it will add: "The union stands ready to examine whether any further assurances can be provided. Such assurances will not change or contradict the withdrawal agreement".

This would not be the legally binding promise that British eurosceptics are seeking that the measure to keep the Irish border open would not be used to bind the UK into a customs union indefinitely.

"This is incredibly innocent language. Nothing of this is new. There is no end date for the backstop," one European source told AFP.

"Not even the wording is different. There is the word temporary, but this is already in the withdrawal agreement," he noted.

But the diplomat said that, in the likely event that the statement will not assuage the concerns of May's parliamentary opponents, then a legal "interpretation" of the deal could be produced.

This would only be published in January, he said, as if it were released too soon, the Brexiteers might immediately seek more concessions, pushing approval of the plan still further back.

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