More Brexit talks held in Brussels as May insists progress is being made

Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay is holding EU withdrawal talks in Brussels as both sides signalled they are in a race against time to cut a workable deal.

Mr Barclay and Attorney General Geoffrey Cox are meeting EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier on Thursday after the Prime Minister insisted progress is being made.

Following a meeting with Jean-Claude Juncker on Wednesday, Theresa May issued a joint statement with the European Commission president in which both leaders acknowledged the “tight timescale”.

The statement said the PM and Mr Juncker “will review progress again in the coming days, seized of the tight timescale and the historic significance of setting the EU and the UK on a path to a deep and unique future partnership”.

After the meeting, Mrs May said she had stressed the need for guarantees on the Northern Ireland backstop proposals.

The PM and Mr Juncker said they would talk again before the end of the month.

Mrs May will be attending a two-day EU-League of Arab States summit in the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm el Sheikh starting on Sunday.

Around 20 EU leaders are expected to take part, including German chancellor Angela Merkel and Irish premier Leo Varadkar, and Mrs May is expected to hold a series of one-to-one meetings on the margins of the main summit.

Mrs May is eager to get movement on the backstop issue before the Brexit issue returns to the Commons for a series of votes on February 27.

The Commons showdown is expected to see backbench moves to try to get Article 50 extended, meaning the UK remains in the EU after its scheduled exit date of March 29.

After the Brussels talks, the PM said: “I have underlined the need for us to see legally binding changes to the backstop that ensure that it cannot be indefinite.

“That’s what is required if a deal is to pass the House of Commons.

“We have agreed that work to find a solution will continue at pace.

“Time is of the essence and it is in both our interests that when the UK leaves the EU it does so in an orderly way.

“So, we have made progress.”

The backstop arrangements would see the whole of the UK remain in a customs union with the EU and Northern Ireland following some single market rules until a wider trade deal is agreed, in order to prevent the need for checkpoints on the Irish border.

The Daily Telegraph reported that Mr Cox is drawing up plans for a unilateral exit mechanism from the backstop with a 12-week notice period.

Meanwhile, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is also meeting Mr Barnier in Brussels on Thursday.

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