The EU sent Attorney General Geoffrey Cox packing after ‘difficult’ and ‘negative’ 11th hour talks failed again leaving Theresa May with ‘nothing’ that could win her make-or-break Brexit vote, it was revealed today.
Mr Cox has openly admitted he had ‘robust’ conversations with his counterpart Michel Barnier – diplomatic code for a bust-up – as he returned from Brussels empty handed last night with one source claiming: ‘There is no light at the end of the tunnel’.
Without a breakthrough the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal faces another catastrophic Commons defeat with a senior Tory admitting: ‘Everything is going to be s***’ if they lose again next week.
Mr Barnier, who has led negotiations, reportedly would not budge and ‘did not want to engage’ as he knocked back all the British proposals to break the Irish backstop deadlock demanding Britain ‘re-drafts’ its plans again.
EU sources hit back by claiming Mr Cox had produced ‘nothing new’ and was offering ‘a legal solution to a political problem’ with his mini-backstop proposals, adding: ‘The two sides are still far from each other’.
Michel Barnier sent Geoffrey Cox back with nothing again with the UK’s Attorney General confirming talks have been robust – diplomatic code for a major row
Sabine Weyand, Mr Barnier’s deputy, has spoken to the remaining EU27 member state ambassadors on the negotiations with Mr Cox with a briefing note describing the crunch talks as ‘negative’.
One diplomat said: ‘There’s no light at the end of the tunnel. It was gloomy’.
Another said: ‘We’re still far from an agreement. There’s no text on the table. If there’s some progress. The point is always the same: how to phrase the backstop in a way that could be acceptable for the UK.’
The EU has warned Theresa May (pictured leaving No 10 tomorrow) she must offer ‘acceptable’ new ideas within 48 hours if she wants to salvage talks on the Brexit deal
Brussels has now told Theresa May she has 48 hours to save her Brexit deal, which faces a catastrophic defeat in the Commons next week.
There are growing rumours that the Prime Minister could fly to Brussels to meet Jean-Claude Juncker before Monday to force a breakthrough – but is unlikely to travel unless she is sure of a positive result.
Tory Brexiteer Mark Francois told ITV’s Peston show last night: ‘The rumors today are that Cox has got nothing. It looks like they haven’t asked for an end date. It looks like they’re talking about some extremely convoluted arbitration procedure, which is probably going to be unconvincing. If it is unconvincing, then I believe that the ERG overwhelmingly will vote against it, because it means we wouldn’t leave the EU’.
Senior Tories are said to have told the Prime Minister and Mr Cox they need to bring something new to the table to win over Brexiteers and Labour rebels.
But Mrs May is still expected to lose by up 100 votes without any kind breakthrough.
One source told The Sun: ‘If we lose on Tuesday, absolutely everything is going to be s***. I cannot see how we go forward with whatever softer Brexit that gets imposed on us without the party splitting in two. It will be a complete disaster.’
Another told the FT: ‘If we lose the vote on March 12, we lose control’.
Labour has already promised to back a second referendum and last night Jeremy Corbyn met with Tory remainers who are campaigning for the softest possible Brexit.
With just five days until the crunch vote on May’s Brexit deal, estimates suggest Mrs May is well short of the votes needed to win on Tuesday
Tory sources have said that a Norway-style Brexit would cause such turmoil in the party that it could split in two.
This ramps up even more pressure on the Prime Minister and the Attorney General to secure some kind of legally binding change to her Brexit deal from the EU.
But insiders on both sides have given inside contrasting accounts as talks floundered.
British sources have said that Michel Barnier would not be flexible as talks entered the 11th hour.
A No 10 source told The Sun: ‘We made what we thought were some pretty reasonable proposals on Tuesday night. Barnier just didn’t want to engage.
The EU has privately pushed back and said the UK is still yet to offer ‘anything new’ and said: ‘What Britain is asking for goes way beyond where Barnier can go. It doesn’t look we’re going to bridge the gap any time soon’.
Britain has been given until the end of Friday to come forward with fresh proposals to break the Brexit deadlock.
EU officials have said they are ready to work through the weekend if the UK comes forward with an ‘acceptable’ plan to resolve the impasse over the Northern Ireland backstop, the BBC reported.
Theresa May is facing a crunch Commons vote on Tuesday when she takes her Brexit deal back to MPs following its overwhelming rejection in January by a majority of 230.
The latest row over the backstop – designed to prevent a hard border emerging in Ireland – centres around disagreements over language which could either form a new document to be added to the Withdrawal Treaty or sit alongside it, said to be taken from a letter written by European Commission President Jean-Claude Junker (pictured)
The Prime Minister has staked her hopes of getting through the ‘meaningful vote’ this time on securing concessions from the EU on the backstop – which has proved the main stumbling block to an agreement.
Tory Brexiteers have been demanding legally-binding assurances the UK cannot be tied indefinitely to EU rules through the backstop, intended to prevent the return of a hard border on the island of Ireland.
However, talks in Brussels on Tuesday between the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier and Attorney General Geoffrey Cox and Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay broke up without agreement.
Both sides acknowledged that the meeting had been ‘difficult’, with reports Mr Barnier complained that Mr Cox had brought forward ‘a legal solution to a political problem’.
Answering MPs’ questions in the Commons, Mr Cox said discussions with the EU would now ‘almost certainly’ carry on over the weekend and he dismissed suggestions the Government had failed to come forward with clear proposals.
‘We are discussing text with the European Union. I am surprised to hear the comments that have emerged over the last 48 hours the proposals are not clear. They are as clear as day and we are continuing to discuss them,’ he said.
Chancellor Philip Hammond warned Tory Brexiteers against voting down Mrs May’s deal next week, saying rejecting it would lead to a delay to Brexit.
‘If the Prime Minister’s deal does not get approved on Tuesday then it is likely that the House of Commons will vote to extend the Article 50 procedure, to not leave the European Union without a deal, and where we go thereafter is highly uncertain,’ he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
‘For those people who are passionate about ensuring that we leave the European Union on time it surely must be something that they need to think very, very carefully about now because they run the risk of us moving away from their preferred course of action if we don’t get this deal through on Tuesday.’
The Chancellor said he believed MPs would not support leaving the EU without a deal, but refused to be drawn on how he would vote if MPs are asked whether they want to delay Britain’s withdrawal.
‘I’m not going to speculate about something that hasn’t happened and I don’t think will happen because I think the Government is very clear where the will of Parliament is on this,’ he said.
‘Parliament will vote not to leave the European Union without a deal next Wednesday, I have a high degree of confidence about that.’
Meanwhile, French Europe minister Nathalie Loiseau said the Withdrawal Agreement could not be reopened, and that it represented ‘best possible solution’.