EU says no to renegotiation of deal ahead of Wesminster vote
THE European Union says it has no plans for talks on renegotiating Theresa May's Brexit deal after the prime minister said she was seeking "further assurances" from Brussels to help it through Parliament.
With a vote on the Withdrawal Agreement expected to take place on Tuesday January 15 a European Commission spokesman said there were no talks planned for this week.
Margaritis Schinas said that the agreed Brexit deal was "the best and the only deal possible" and the Commission was focused on watching what happened in the vote.
Without some activity from Brussels Mrs May is expected to lose the so-called meaningful vote, which was postponed in December when it became clear the government would be defeated.
Mrs May yesterday said she was still working to get concessions that would appease rebellious MPs.
Speaking at Alder Hey Hospital in Liverpool at the launch of the NHS Long-Term Plan, she said work was still ongoing and claimed that there had been "some further movement" from the EU at the December European Council meeting.
She said: "In the coming days, what we will set out is not just about the EU but also about what we can do domestically.
"So we will be setting out measures, which will be specific to Northern Ireland, we will be setting out proposals for a greater role for Parliament as we move into the next stage of the negotiation and we are continuing to work on further assurances on further undertakings from the European Union in relation to the concern that has been expressed by parliamentarians."
However, her speech came minutes after Mr Schinas had said that while Mrs May would speak to EC president Jean-Claude Juncker this week, "there is no negotiation because everything on the table has been established as approved, established, achieved".
"The priority now is to await events, monitor what is happening (with) the ratification procedure on the UK side and no, there will not be any meeting between the commission and our negotiator teams," he said.
As MPs returned to Westminster after the Christmas break Mrs May was also warned that the attitudes of Tory Brexiteers had hardened, with Boris Johnson stating that a no-deal Brexit was closest to what people voted for in the referendum.
He used his Daily Telegraph column to dismiss "downright apocalyptic" messages about a Brexit on World Trade Organisation (WTO) terms, arguing that people could "sort fact for nonsense".
A paper written by Tory former Cabinet minister Lord Lilley, along with Labour Leave general secretary Brendan Chilton, also backed a WTO-style Brexit, claiming that concerns raised about the approach were similar to fears about the Millennium Bug.
But 209 MPs from across the Commons have now signed a letter to the prime minister urging her to rule out a no-deal Brexit.
The letter was organised by Tory former cabinet minister Dame Caroline Spelman and Labour's Jack Dromey.
All signatories to the letter have been invited to meet the prime minister in Downing Street today.
The meeting is one of a series being organised by Mrs May, who is also hosting drinks receptions for Tory MPs this week as part of a charm offensive to win support for the Brexit deal.
Asked about a report that Parliament may have to sit through half term and weekends to ensure the necessary legislation is on the statute book by Brexit day, the prime minister's official spokesman said: "What we are committed to doing is ensuring the statute book is ready for exit day.
"We will do whatever is required to deliver that."
Brexit-related bills before Parliament – the Trade Bill, the Agriculture Bill, the Healthcare Bill, the Fisheries Bill, the Immigration Bill and the Financial Services Bill.
Meanwhile, Digital Minister Margot James has been slapped down by Downing Street after suggesting Article 50 might have to be extended in order to stop a no-deal Brexit if the Withdrawal Agreement is rejected by Parliament.
Mrs James told the BBC's Politics Live that she expected MPs to "coalesce" around the PM's Brexit deal "or something very similar", saying: "This country cannot afford to leave the European Union with no deal."
Asked what would happen if MPs did not back a deal, Mrs James said: "If that proves to be impossible then I think we have very little time left but... we might have to extend article 50.
"But I think that it's very unlikely Parliament will actually stare down the barrel of that particular gun."
Speaking to reporters later on Monday, the prime minister's official spokesman said: "The PM has been very clear on a number of occasions that that is not something we are intending to do."
Earlier on Monday almost 100 lorries descended on Manston Airport near Ramsgate in Kent to test out using the runway as an HGV holding bay to prevent traffic jams on roads to Channel ports.
The trial, called Operation Brock, saw lorries directed along the A256 towards Dover in a 20-mile journey which should take around half-an-hour.
Up to 150 vehicles were initially anticipated to take part but only 89 were involved, the DfT confirmed after the first test.