Brexit talks with Brussels ‘deadlocked’ as Commons showdown looms

Brussels' patience with Theresa May appears to be wearing thin ahead of Tuesday's Commons showdown on Brexit.

European Union chief negotiator Michel Barnier said the talks happening now were between British politicians, rather than between the UK and Brussels.

Downing Street acknowledged negotiations were "deadlocked" and that a phone call between the Prime Minister and Jean-Claude Juncker failed to produce any breakthrough.

If progress had been made, Mrs May had been expected to fly to Brussels for face-to-face talks with the European Commission president, but the EU confirmed that no political meetings were scheduled between the two sides this week.

At Westminster, speculation has centred on the prospect of the Prime Minister watering down her commitment to hold a vote on her Brexit deal following the failure of talks to provide suitable concessions over the Northern Ireland backstop.

But Mrs May's official spokesman confirmed it remains the plan to stage the "meaningful vote" on the Brexit deal on Tuesday.

The motion is due to be tabled later on Monday, alongside the publication of the documents setting out the deal, including the Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration agreed in November.

Countdown to leaving the EU
(PA Graphics)

The legal advice of Attorney General Geoffrey Cox is also expected to be published.

The PM's spokesman cautioned against "speculation" that Mrs May might ask Parliament to vote on a "conditional" motion expressing its readiness to support a form of deal other than the one agreed with Brussels.

In a sign of Brussels' frustration, European Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas said: "It is now for the House of Commons to take an important set of decisions this week."

Mr Barnier told AFP as he arrived at a meeting of EU ambassadors: "We talked all weekend and now the discussions, the negotiations, are between the Government in London and the Parliament in London."

MPs are expected to vote on the deal on Tuesday, with possible further votes on whether to accept a no-deal Brexit or extend Article 50 in order to delay the UK's departure beyond the current March 29 deadline.

The Prime Minister was warned that her position could be in jeopardy unless she stuck to commitments she made about this week's votes.

Tory former minister Nick Boles said: "I am sure that the Prime Minister will honour these three commitments.

"If she doesn't she will forfeit the confidence of the House of Commons."

Mrs May has been told by Brexiteers that rejection of the Withdrawal Agreement is "inevitable" unless there are significant changes to the Northern Ireland backstop.

Some called on the PM to postpone the "meaningful vote" rather than risk another damaging reverse.

They urged her to table a "conditional" motion setting out the terms for dealing with the backstop issue which Parliament would be prepared to accept.

Jacob Rees-Mogg, chairman of the pro-Brexit Tory European Research Group, told the Times it "would not be a foolish way to proceed".

Brexit
Jacob Rees-Mogg said a 'conditional' motion 'would not be a foolish way to proceed' (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

He added: "I think a meaningful vote with an addendum saying this House will support a deal if such and such is done might be a way of uniting the party or limiting the scale of the defeat."

Former chief whip Andrew Mitchell told the paper: "Anything that avoids what looks like a massive defeat on Tuesday is worth considering."

Former Cabinet minister Nicky Morgan said Mrs May's position would become untenable if Parliament "dismantled" her Brexit policy in a series of votes during the course of the week.

Asked if the PM had considered resigning if her deal was defeated on Tuesday, her spokesman said he had not discussed the matter with Mrs May, but added: "I have seen nothing at all to suggest that."

Tory MP George Freeman said Mrs May should quit after Brexit rather than have a "panicked change of leader now", telling BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "I hope the Prime Minister can get withdrawal through and then I do think we need to choose a new leader for a new generation with a new vision of a conservativism that can make sense of Brexit and reinspire and reunite the nation."

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Environment Secretary Michael Gove has encouraged MPs to back Theresa May's deal (Jeff Overs/BBC)

Environment Secretary Michael Gove – one of the leaders of the official Leave campaign in the referendum – became the latest Cabinet minister to urge MPs to vote for Mrs May's deal.

In an article for the Daily Mail, he said: "I hope that everyone who believes in our democracy – in the importance of delivering Brexit, but also in the critical need to unite our country – will come behind the Prime Minister's deal this week."

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