No Brexit 'deal in the desert' for May: EU source

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker (R) welcomes British Prime Minister Theresa May (L) as she arrives at the EU headquarters in Brussels to hold a meeting on Brexit talks.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker (R) welcomes British Prime Minister Theresa May (L) as she arrives at the EU headquarters in Brussels to hold a meeting on Brexit talks.

AFP

BRUSSELS - British Prime Minister Theresa May will have a chance to speak to fellow EU leaders at their summit with the Arab League, but she should not expect a Brexit breakthrough, an EU source said Friday.

Arab and European leaders will meet for two days from Sunday in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, even as Britain lobbies to reopen Brexit negotiations just weeks before it is due to leave the bloc.

"There will be no deal in the desert in Sharm el-Sheikh, this is a summit between the EU and the Arab states," an EU source told reporters in Brussels.

According to the source, only 24 of the 28 EU leaders have confirmed they will attend the Red Sea summit, and all would have to be present to agree any Brexit deal.

READ: May faces another damaging defeat in Brexit saga

Nevertheless, May is expected to meet some of her counterparts one-on-one on the sidelines of the meeting to push her case for changes to the divorce agreement.

This could pave the way towards a later breakthrough, perhaps at the next planned full EU summit on March 21 and 22, just a week before Britain leaves the bloc.

On Friday, EU negotiator Michel Barnier told France's Europe 1 radio it was time for May to take a decision and present a Brexit plan to her parliament.   

"We don't need extra time, what we need now is a decision and for everyone to take responsibility," he said.

He did not exclude granting Britain more negotiating time, but said it was now up to the British "to take their responsibilities and assume the consequences of decisions they took democratically".

Brussels, however, is open to adopting a more ambitious political declaration, alongside the legally binding withdrawal treaty that would set a roadmap for negotiating close EU-UK trade ties.

READ: No-deal Brexit 'could cost 600,000 jobs worldwide': study

The British government said Thursday that Brexit talks will focus on securing new guarantees to reassure lawmakers, rather than on demanding that a divorce deal already concluded with the EU be reopened.

EU leaders insist the withdrawal agreement, which they struck with Britain last year, cannot be renegotiated to appease British MPs who rejected it in parliament.

Brussels, however, is open to adopting a more ambitious political declaration, alongside the legally binding withdrawal treaty that would set a roadmap for negotiating close EU-UK trade ties.

May's official position remains that the "simplest" way to agree a deal that would pass the British parliament would be to negotiate changes to the agreement.

But EU officials noted that Thursday's British statement "acknowledged" that Brussels has said this will be impossible.

"Officially she has not dropped her demand, but in practice she has realised that she should put her energy on another text," one European official said.   

Source
AFP