Attorney General seeks to end impasse over Northern Ireland backstop

Attorney General Geoffrey Cox and Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay are to hold fresh talks in Brussels in a renewed effort to secure changes to the Northern Ireland backstop.

Downing Street has said negotiations are at a “critical stage” as Theresa May presses for concessions from the EU that will persuade MPs to back her Brexit deal in next week’s expected crunch Commons vote.

Conservative Brexiteers are demanding guarantees the UK cannot be tied indefinitely to EU rules through the backstop, intended to ensure there is no hard border on the island of Ireland in the absence of a future free trade agreement.

No 10 refused to be drawn on Monday on a report that Mr Cox had dropped attempts to secure either a time limit or a unilateral exit mechanism in the face of entrenched opposition from the EU.

Brexit
Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay (left) and Attorney General Geoffrey Cox are to hold fresh talks in Brussels (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

However, Mr Cox poured cold water on the claims describing then as “misunderstood fag ends dressed up as facts”.

“Some of it is accurate, much more of it isn’t and what is not is far more significant than what is,” he wrote on Twitter.

“Complex and detailed negotiations cannot be conducted in public.”

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said the negotiations were “definitely making progress” but that there “definitely remains more work to be done”.

Meanwhile, the so-called “Cash Council” of pro-Brexit Tory MP lawyers – named after arch Euro-sceptic Sir Bill Cash – said they would make a judgment on whether to vote an agreement once they had seen the details.

The DT reporting of the last 24 hours consists of misunderstood fag ends dressed up as facts. Some of it is accurate, much more of it isn’t and what is not is far more significant than what is. Complex and detailed negotiations cannot be conducted in public.

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— Geoffrey Cox QC MP (@Geoffrey_Cox) March 4, 2019

Council member Michael Tomlinson said any document would have to meet the requirements of the Brady amendment, passed by the Commons in January, which called for “alternative arrangements” to replace the backstop.

“There are no documents for us to examine at this stage, but we look forward to seeing in due course what the Attorney has agreed, so that we may assess whether it meets the requirements of the Brady amendment, which commanded a majority in the House of Commons and calls for significant, legally-binding changes to the Withdrawal Agreement,” Mr Tomlinson said following the first meeting of the group at Westminster on Monday.

“We support the Prime Minister in seeking treaty-level changes, but pre-judging or speculating at this stage won’t help the re-negotiating efforts.

“The council has asked to be given all of the relevant documents in good time to consider them properly, in order to form a judgment in advance of a vote. Our primary objective is a proper analysis.”