May holds ‘good, friendly’ but ‘fleeting’ Brexit meeting with Merkle and EU...

May holds ‘good, friendly’ but ‘fleeting’ Brexit meeting with Merkle and EU leaders

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Theresa May, EU, Europe, Angela Merkel, Brexit

The British Prime Minister is holding meetings with a number of EU leaders, including Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, on the final day of the summit.

Theresa May held talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel as the two leaders attended an EU-League of Arab States summit in Egypt.

Mrs May and her German counterpart met over breakfast on the fringes of the gathering at Sharm el Sheikh.

Referring to the PM’s meeting with Mrs Merkel, the UK Government official said: “They did discuss Brexit, they discussed UK parliament, things that have been happening in UK parliament, things that are happening this week.

“They spent a decent amount of time talking about foreign policy as well as Brexit.”

The official said the issue of extending Article 50 came up “fleetingly”, adding “it really wasn’t a focus”.

She also with met Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte for Brexit-related talks on the fringes of the EU-League of Arab States summit.

The British Prime Minister is meeting European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker on Monday as part of her talks with EU leaders in Sharm el Sheikh, a senior UK Government official said.

The official said Mrs May had a “good, friendly” 45-minute meeting with Mrs Merkel on the fringes of the EU-League of Arab States summit they are attending.

The PM and Mrs Merkel discussed Brexit and the UK Parliament, as well as issues like Syria, the official said.

The issue of extending Article 50 came up briefly in the meeting, and Mrs May reiterated that the UK wanted to leave the EU with a deal on the scheduled date of March 29, the official said.

Theresa May is to hold further meetings with EU leaders after admitting she will not get a Brexit deal in time for MPs to hold a “meaningful vote” this week.

The British Prime Minister, attending an EU-League of Arab States summit in Egypt, has said she will put her deal to Parliament by March 12 at the latest – just 17 days before Britain is due to leave the EU.

The latest delay was greeted with anger by opposition parties who accused her of another attempt to “run down the clock” to force MPs to back her Withdrawal Agreement.

And there was dismay among businesses over the continuing uncertainty over what will happen after March 29 when Britain is supposed to leave the EU.

Mrs May now faces the prospect of another potentially damaging Commons revolt on Wednesday when MPs are expected to mount a fresh attempt to block a no-deal break.

In the meantime, she is due to meet German chancellor Angela Merkel and Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte in the sidelines of the summit on Monday as she continues to seek a resolution to the impasse over the Northern Ireland backstop.

It follows talks on Sunday in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el Sheikh with European Council president Donald Tusk.

Mr Tusk was said to have emphasised the need for “clarity” that any proposed solution would command a majority in the Commons before he was prepared to put it to the remaining EU27 leaders, according to one EU source.

Mrs May’s acknowledgement that she cannot get a deal to put to MPs this week, means there will now be a further series of votes in the Commons on an amendable Government motion on Wednesday.

A cross-party group of MPs seeking to block a no-deal break immediately confirmed they would be tabling an amendment giving the House the power to demand a delay to Brexit if an agreement is not in place by March 13.

Over the weekend three pro-EU Cabinet ministers – Amber Rudd, David Gauke and Greg Clark – signaled they could be prepared to vote for it if there was no breakthrough in the negotiations.

There was speculation that up to 100 Tory MPs – including as many as 20 ministers – could be prepared to join them as patience among MPs opposed to no-deal is stretched to breaking point.

Defence Minister Tobias Ellwood told The Times: “The scale of the damage no-deal would do to our economy, security and reputation and the growing threat that it might happen by default overshadows any leverage it may have had in our negotiations with the EU.

“We must put country first and rule out no-deal.”

Labour MP Yvette Cooper, who drew up the amendment with Conservative former minister Oliver Letwin, said it would now become the “real meaningful vote” on the Brexit deal.

“The Prime Minister isn’t acting responsibly in the national interest, but MPs from all sides need to do so,” she said.

Mrs May, however, said a delay to Brexit would not resolve the deadlock over the backstop, with the Government seeking legally binding assurance it will not mean Britain is tied indefinitely to EU customs arrangements.

“Now, often people talk about the extension of Article 50 as if that will actually solve the issue. Of course it won’t. It defers the point of decision,” she said.

“There will always come a point where we have to decide whether we accept the deal that’s been negotiated or not. And that will be a decision for every member of Parliament across the House.”

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