There is “no room whatsoever” to renegotiate the Brexit deal, the president of the European Commission has said, ahead of Theresa May’s trip to Brussels to seek concessions.
Speaking in the European Parliament on Tuesday Jean-Claude Juncker said re-opening the withdrawal agreement “will not happen”.
He said the best the prime minister could hope for was “further clarity and further interpretations without reopening the withdrawal agreement” when she meets EU leaders in Brussels this week.
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The Ms May is desperate to gain concessions from the EU on the deal she struck last month after it was given an overwhelmingly hostile reception by MPs.
She postponed a planned vote on the agreement after it became clear that it would be rejected by the House of Commons, with her own MPs opposed to its “backstop” clause that would keep the UK in a customs union with the EU.
But Mr Juncker said: “The backstop is necessary for Ireland. Ireland will never be left alone.”
The Commission president described Brexit as “a surprise guest” at the European Council summit scheduled for this end of this week, adding: “I am surprised because we had reached an agreement on 25 November together with the government of the UK.”
“The deal we have achieved is the best deal possible, it is the only deal possible, and so there is no room whatsoever for renegotiation,” he said.
“There is room enough to give further clarity and further interpretations without reopening the withdrawal agreement.
“This will not happen. Everyone has to know that the withdrawal agreement will not be re-opened.”
Last night European Council president Donald Tusk, who speaks for member state governments collectively, issued a similar warning. He said: “We will not renegotiate the deal, including the backstop, but we are ready to discuss how to facilitate UK ratification.”
Member states, too, have taken the same line. Arriving in Brussels for a meeting on Tuesday, France’s Europe minister Nathalie Loiseau told reporters: “We are very much concerned about the postponement of the vote on the withdrawal agreement.
“We’ve done a lot to help the UK, this withdrawal agreement is the only possible agreement, and we’ve done a lot of concessions to reach it. We sincerely hope that there can be a majority to ratify the withdrawal agreement but we have to stand ready for a no-deal and we are preparing for it.”
Leo Varadkar, the Irish prime minister, said on Monday it was “not possible to reopen any aspect” of the agreement “without reopening all aspects”, adding that it was “the only agreement on the table”. He said no clarification of the deal could contradict its contents.
The promise of “clarification” is unlikely to assuage Conservative eurosceptic rebels, who have said they will not vote for the plan unless the backstop is removed, given a time-limit, or an exit clause. The EU has ruled out these ideas, saying the backstop would no longer be a backstop if it was not “all-weather”.
It is understood that EU member states could stretch to a so-called “side-declaration” at the summit to assist Ms May. This non-legally binding political declaration would simply spell out how both sides expect the deal to be interpreted, though it would not change its contents.
The prime minister’s chief Brexit negotiator Olly Robbins returned to Brussels on Monday and was spotted in the European Commission headquarters – apparently trying to seek concessions on the deal.
Ms May herself is due to visit Brussels on Tuesday for meetings with Mr Juncker and Mr Tusk; she will return again for the European Council summit with leaders on Thursday and Friday, where Brexit will be on the agenda.
On Monday a European Commission spokesperson said: “We have an agreement on the table that was endorsed by the European Council in its Article 50 format on the 25 November. As president Juncker said, this deal is the best and only deal possible.
“We will not renegotiate, our position has not changed, and as far as we are concerned, the United Kingdom is leaving the European Union on 29 March 2019.”
The Independent has launched its #FinalSay campaign to demand that voters are given a voice on the final Brexit deal.