What could the EU offer May to swing Brexit vote?

‘Exchange of letters’ promising post-Brexit trade deal by 2012 aimed at bolstering PM ahead of crunch Commons showdown next week

The Houses of Parliament seen through the EU flag
(Image credit: Oli Scarff - WPA Pool/Getty Images)

The European Union could be set to offer Theresa May one final concession to help her win over wavering MPs ahead of next week’s crunch vote on her Brexit withdrawal deal.

Various reports suggest the European Commission will offer an “exchange of letters” confirming the EU’s intention to conclude trade talks with the UK by 2021.

The correspondence under discussion would flesh out language already included in the withdrawal agreement “but it is hoped its clarity could persuade some MPs of the EU’s intention to avoid triggering the Irish backstop”, says The Guardian.

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Despite frantic telephone diplomacy over Christmas, May has been forced to abandon her pledge made to Tory MPs in December to secure a “legally binding” power for the UK to break free of the Irish backstop, if implemented.

The Daily Telegraph says “rather than focusing on time-limiting the backstop itself, the idea is to shift the focus on to the future, setting a date for the new trade relationship to come into force”, says the paper.

Downing Street has said it is hopeful of securing written political and legal reassurances from the EU in the coming days, before the meaningful vote anticipated on Tuesday next week.

However, The Independent understands that Number 10 has accepted the “reassurances” it is seeking on the backstop will not come before the withdrawal agreement returns for debate in the Commons on Wednesday.

This means “MPs will begin debating Theresa May’s Brexit deal in the dark about any changes made” says the news site.

Downing Street is set to hold a series of receptions this week to woo MPs but Newsnight’s political editor Nick Watt says: “As things stand, the prime minister is heading for a serious parliamentary defeat because she is confronted by two apparently immovable objects. They are: no appetite in the EU to make substantive changes to the Brexit deal, and opposition from the Democratic Unionist Party to parts of the deal regarding Northern Ireland.”

“But Whitehall is picking up signs of movement in the EU which would, in an ideal world for No 10, persuade the DUP to support the prime minister”, says Watt.

The DUP are seen as crucial to Theresa May’s hopes of getting her deal through Parliament. They have been vocal opponents of the prime minister’s backstop plan, but were she to win them over it could persuade other reluctant Tory Brexiteers to come on board, potentially swaying the few Labour MPs needed to get the bill over the line.

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