Brexit

Commons leader lobbies Merkel to reconsider position on backstop

German chancellor Angela Merkel, right, and British prime minister Theresa May, talk teach other after a meeting at the chancellery in Berlin, Germany on Tuesday Picture by Markus Schreiber/AP
Jennifer McKiernan

ANDREA Leadsom has called for German Chancellor Angela Merkel to reopen talks on the backstop contained within the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement.

The Commons Leader made the call after a senior German official said the UK must take "substantial steps" to break the Brexit stand-off.

The EU has repeatedly ruled out reopening the backstop proposals in the Withdrawal Agreement, which were previously agreed with Mrs May.

The prime minister is on a diplomatic flurry to plead for an extension, with Mrs Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron, ahead of a crunch EU summit on Wednesday.

Mrs Leadsom told ITV News: "The prime minister is off to see Angela Merkel today and it would be fantastic if Angela Merkel will try to support a proper UK Brexit by agreeing to reopen the Withdrawal Agreement.

"There have been rumours over the weekend some senior members of the German government would be willing to do that in order to get Theresa May's deal over the line.

"As the person with the responsibility to get the legislation through, if we get the prime minister's deal over the line because the EU has decided to support measures on the backstop, that would be the best possible outcome."

Mrs Leadsom acknowledged Mrs May was focused on requesting an extension to the Article 50 deadline but insisted the UK was still in control of Brexit, saying "yes it is, at the moment it is".

However, Michael Roth, Germany's deputy foreign minister, expressed frustration that nothing seemed to have changed on the UK side and said any delay must come with strict conditions.

As he arrived at an EU meeting in Luxembourg on Tuesday, Mr Roth said "so far absolutely nothing has changed" and "we are in a very, very frustrating situation here".

Mr Roth said that "within the European Union, there isn't an endless readiness to keep talking about delays so long as there is no substantial progress on the British side".

Mrs May has asked for a new delay until June 30 but, according to reports, Brexit could be delayed by nearly a year under plans being considered by EU officials.

Such an extension would mean the UK having to take part in European parliamentary elections, which would be anathema to hardline Brexiteer Tories, and the country could be sidelined from budget decisions in Brussels.

All 27 remaining EU heads of government must agree to an extension if the UK is to avoid the default position of a no-deal Brexit on Friday night.

On Monday night, MPs and peers backed a new law to extend the Brexit process, and cross-party talks are expected to continue in the hope of finding a compromise.

Meanwhile, talks between the government and Labour aimed at finding a cross-party consensus are due to resume on Tuesday, following technical discussions between officials on Monday.

The latest round of talks will include Mrs May's de facto deputy, Cabinet Office minister David Lidington, and Chancellor Philip Hammond from the government side, with shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer and shadow chancellor John McDonnell from Labour.

Justice secretary David Gauke said the talks were taking place in a "constructive manner" but it was too early to say whether they would reach an agreement.

After Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn urged the prime minister to move on her negotiating red lines, Mr Gauke acknowledged there would need to be flexibility on both sides.

"To reach a resolution the likelihood is there will need to be flexibility from all sides," he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.

"The talks so far have been undertaken in a constructive manner from both sides. There are some areas of common ground but there are also well-known areas of disagreement.

"There is a lot of work going on at the moment in terms of identifying where we can move forward."

Mr Gauke played down a report that Mrs May was considering offering MPs a vote on whether to hold a confirmatory referendum on any Brexit deal that was agreed.

"In the discussions I have had with the prime minister she had made it very clear that she doesn't want a confirmatory referendum," he said.

He acknowledged, however, that there were likely to be further attempts to put down amendments requiring a confirmatory public vote when any agreement was put to Parliament for ratification.

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