Downing Street backed Tory backbenchers Iain Duncan Smith, Owen Paterson and DUP leader Arlene Foster’s visit to the Belgian capital last week in a bid to win support for the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal. The trio met Mr Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, hours after the bloc’s leaders agreed to hand Mrs May a six-month Article 50 extension to help get her deal across the line. During the meeting at the European Commission’s Berlaymont headquarters, the Brexiteers discussed so-called alternative arrangements to the Irish backstop, developments in London and the Brexit delay.
Express.co.uk understands the Prime Minister was keen for Mr Duncan Smith, Mr Paterson and Ms Foster to meet with Mr Barnier to understand the realities of the backstop.
According to a source, the Brussels negotiator encouraged the British politicians to support the Prime Minister’s hated Brexit deal in order to unlock substantive talks to eliminate the backstop.
“Barnier said as long as you ratify the withdrawal agreement, we will work on the alternative arrangements,” the EU source said.
“I think Number 10 was quite supportive of the meeting, as it was also a reality check for them.”
During a weekend interview, Mr Duncan Smith claimed that the EU understands that the backstop “doesn’t work”.
But EU officials insist the backstop is the only viable option for preventing a hard border on Ireland after two years of negotiating.
They are intent that the longer British MPs refuse to sign up to the Prime Minister’s divorce deal, the stronger Brussels’ support grows for the agreement.
The Commission is hoping that cross-party talks between Mrs May and Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party will produce a result.
Then UK and EU officials can sit down in order to tweak the political declaration on the future relationship in order for the Prime Minister to hold another Commons vote on her Brexit deal.
David Lidington, the de facto deputy prime minister, said that talks between the Government and Labour would continue next week.
He said: “What we have agreed is a programme of meeting on particular subjects.
“And then we would hope to take stock of where we are as soon as Parliament gets back after the Easter recess.”
He added: “I don’t think that this question can be allowed to drag out for much longer.”
Published at Mon, 15 Apr 2019 14:30:00 +0000