Brexit: the past seven days

As the countdown continues to the scheduled date of Brexit on March 29, here is what has been happening over the past week.

Days to go

21 – or possibly more, depending on next week’s crunch Commons votes.

What happened this week?

Talks in Brussels involving Attorney General Geoffrey Cox, Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay and European Union negotiator Michel Barnier appeared to hit a brick wall.

Both sides described the discussions on changes to the Northern Ireland backstop as “difficult” – usually diplomatic code for a complete breakdown.

Meanwhile Jeremy Corbyn met Tory ex-ministers Nick Boles and Sir Oliver Letwin and Labour backbenchers Stephen Kinnock and Lucy Powell about their “Common Market 2.0” plan for a soft Brexit.

What happens next?

Theresa May is pleading with the EU to give ground ahead of Tuesday’s Commons showdown on her Withdrawal Agreement.

Negotiations are expected to continue over the weekend in the hope of a late breakthrough.

If the Withdrawal Agreement is rejected in the Commons on Tuesday, MPs will vote on Wednesday on whether they want a no-deal departure from the EU.

Assuming they do not, then MPs will be asked if they want to seek a “short, limited extension” to Article 50 – delaying Brexit beyond March 29.

Good week

Nick Boles and Sir Oliver Letwin

Mr Corbyn’s talks with the Tory pair about their Norway-style plan, which would keep the UK in both the single market and a customs union, were described as positive and constructive. The Labour leader said he was “more certain than ever” that a “sensible” deal could be agreed – something which could reduce the chances of him fully throwing his weight behind a second referendum.

Bad week

Geoffrey Cox

His efforts to secure legally-binding changes to the backstop appear to have stalled, with critics dubbing his efforts to cover up what they view as the deal’s flaws “Cox’s codpiece”.

Quote of the week

European Commission chief spokesman Margaritis Schinas: “Michel Barnier… informed the commissioners that while the talks take place in a constructive atmosphere, discussions have been difficult.

“No solution has been identified at this point that is consistent with the Withdrawal Agreement, including the protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland, which, as you all know, will not be reopened.”

Tweet of the week

Labour MP Lucy Powell: “Very positive and constructive meeting with @jeremycorbyn today together with our cross-party alliance for Common Market 2.0 @NickBoles @oletwinofficial @SKinnock. We discussed areas of agreement and where we differ and how we could work together to break the Brexit deadlock.”

Word of the week

Codpiece

The Attorney General insisted it remains Government policy to achieve changes to the backstop that would allow him to alter his legal advice that the UK could potentially be trapped indefinitely in the arrangement.

“I would say that it has come to be called ‘Cox’s codpiece’,” he told MPs. “What I am concerned to ensure is that what is inside the codpiece is in full working order.”

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