British Prime Minister Theresa May arrived in Brussels for crunch Brexit talks with top EU officials after insisting that the UK must not be “trapped” in a backstop deal on the Irish Border. The previous day Taoiseach Leo Varadkar again received reassurances that the EU backed Dublin’s position on the necessity for the backstop.
Mrs May and European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker reportedly had “robust but constructive” talks. Mr Juncker "underlined that the EU27 will not reopen the withdrawal agreement" in their talks, according to a joint statement released by the two sides and again ruled out the kind of changes Mrs May wants to see. During the talks Tusk tweeted “Still no breakthrough in sight. Talks will continue”. Mrs May reassured the EU that there would be a backstop in the withdrawal agreement. Mrs May’s key message for EU leaders is that she could get parliamentary support for the withdrawal agreement as long concerns about the current backstop are addressed. She did not share details of how she plans to secure this support.
However, the visit was considered by some as “a glimpse of hope” for Brexit as Mr Juncker did express an “openness” to adding words to Political Declaration “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”. Both sides agreed to further talks at the end of February to see whether a way through can be found that would gain the broadest possible support in the UK parliament and respect the guidelines agreed by the European Council .
During her visit, Mrs May also raised with European Council President Donald Tusk his comment made the previous day that “a special place in hell” awaited those Brexiteers who advocated leaving the EU without making a plan for it. She stated that “the language that he used yesterday, which was not helpful and caused widespread dismay in the United Kingdom”.
The following day Mrs May travelled to Dublin to have dinner with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar at Farmleigh House. Irish officials insisted that the dinner did not involve “negotiations” on Brexit or the backstop but rather a discussion on the “overall state of play” and an opportunity to “share perspectives”.