The EU is preparing a big Brexit compromise to 'save Theresa' May

Jack Taylor/Getty ImagesChief negotiator for the European Union Michel Barnier (C) greets British Prime Minster Theresa May on arrival at the Council of the European Union on the final day of the European Council leaders’ summit on March 23, 2018 in Brussels, Belgium.
  • The EU is preparing to offer Theresa May a lifeline by handing its chief negotiator new instructions to help seal a deal with Britain, according to a report.
  • Any signs of progress with the EU could significantly bolster Theresa May’s position, and one EU diplomat branded it a “save Theresa” operation.
  • One senior EU diplomat told the paper the new instructions would help to “serve as a sort of mandate to do the deal,” but possibly not contain any significantly new substance.

LONDON – The EU is preparing to offer Theresa May a Brexit lifeline by handing its chief negotiator new instructions to help seal a deal with Britain, with one European diplomat branding the plan a “save Theresa” operation.

The prime minister remains under sustained attack from the Brexiteer wing of her own party, with former foreign secretary Boris Johnson last week likening her Brexit strategy to wrapping “a suicide vest around the British constitution,” and any signs of progress with the EU could significantly bolster her position.

However, at a crucial summit in Salzburg this month, the EU’s 27 remaining leaders will discuss the possibility of adding additional guidance to Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, the Financial Times reported.

One senior EU diplomat told the paper the new instructions would help to “serve as a sort of mandate to do the deal.”

‘Dogmatic legalism’

Michel BarnierGettyMichel Barnier

British officials believe that Barnier has interpreted his instructions too rigidly, meaning progress has been too difficult. Brexit secretary Dominic Raab has blamed “dogmatic legalism” for the lack of a breakthrough in talks.

The diplomat stressed that the guidelines would not significantly alter Barnier’s mandate to secure a deal, and others denied that present guidelines are too inflexible, but said instead that the new instructions could be “symbolically” important in allowing Barnier to interpret the guidelines more freely.

One crucial aspect the talks will cover will be the level of detail required for the “political declaration” on future UK-EU relations that is attached to the divorce deal. EU member states including Germany previously insisted that a clear, unambiguous statement would be necessary.

But there now appears to be some recognition that a more fudged statement which does not force the UK to make difficult decisions would help the deal pass through British parliament. That, in turn, would avoid the UK crashing out of a deal in March and seeing May replaced by a more hardline Brexiteer.

The crucial issue remains the Irish border. The UK has to agree to a backstop which guarantees no new border checks will emerge between Northern Ireland and Ireland, something May firmly opposes on the grounds it would create a new border between Ireland and the rest of the UK.

One diplomat told the FT: “There are some things that will not work. We do have a requirement for a legally operable backstop [for the Irish border]. The rest is solvable.”

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