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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 18 January 2019

Brexit: EU will not reopen withdrawal agreement

Theresa May was dealt a further blow in her struggle to convince parliament of her Brexit deal

European Union leaders have refused to reopen the Brexit withdrawal agreement despite pleas from Britain’s embattled prime minister Theresa May.

Mrs May, who survived a confidence vote triggered by her own MPs earlier this week, has been seeking assurances at an EU summit in Brussels in a bid to get her deal passed through the British parliament.

But European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker said the agreement was not up for renegotiation although he could offer “clarifications”.

The pound dropped to under $1.26 following the news that Mrs May’s request had been turned down by the EU.

In the meantime, senior EU figures said on Friday they were stepping up their preparations for a no-deal Brexit as it was looking increasingly unlikely the deal would be accepted by a sceptical parliament.

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"The signals we got are not especially reassuring on the capacity in the UK to honour the deal agreed," Belgian prime minister Charles Michel told reporters in Brussels. "My impression is that we need to speed up our preparations because a no-deal is now a real possibility."

Mrs May cancelled a key vote on her deal in parliament this week because she believed it would be defeated.

Croatian prime minister Andrej Plenkovic offered his British counterpart a glimmer of hope on Friday when he said that EU leaders could reconvene next month for a new Brexit summit when Britain clarifies exactly what help it needs to pass the deal.

But he added that “nothing in that respect was concluded yesterday" when Mrs May held talks to try and get her deal over the line.

British media have reported that Mrs May’s meetings on Thursday went badly as she failed in her objective to win legal assurances that the Irish backstop would only been temporary.

The backstop- an insurance policy designed to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland- has caused rebellion among some of her MPs, who argue it will leave the UK tied to the EU’s rules indefinitely.

Mrs May’s failure to gain the assurances she publicly set out to get during the EU summit is likely to cause further problems for her, particularly among the 117 MPs who voted against her in the confidence ballot.

Downing Street has confirmed the parliamentary vote will not happen before the end of the year and instead will take place in January.

Updated: December 14, 2018 05:10 PM

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