Juncker and May agree to ‘legally binding’ take it or leave it backstop changes

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British Prime Minister Theresa May (L) and Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission (R) speaks to the journalists during a press conference at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, 11 March 2019.

Juncker and May agree to ‘legally binding’ take it or leave it backstop changes


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UK Prime Minister Theresa May claims to have secured “legally-binding’’ changes to the EU-UK withdrawal agreement after meeting with the European Commission {resident Jean-Claude Juncker in Strasbourg just hours before a dramatic ‘meaningful vote’ on the deal in the House of Commons.

After meeting in Strasbourg, the two leaders read their messages before May headed back to London for a vote that will either allow the UK to exit the EU under an agreement and therefore secure a beneficial future relationship with the bloc or crash out entirely and leave their future in doubt.

Before the two leaders took the floor in Strasbourg, Cabinet Office Minister David Lidington told British MPs in a late-night statement to the Commons that “legally binding changes that strengthen and improve” the Withdrawal Agreement are now a reality, but that the core text of the Brexit deal remains unchanged.

“Our agreement provides meaningful clarifications and legal guarantees to the Withdrawal Agreement and the backstop. The choice is clear – this is this deal or Brexit may not happen at all,” said Juncker, urging both sides to “bring the UK’s withdrawal to an orderly end. We owe it to history.”

Juncker underlined that Britain’s withdrawal from the bloc should be complete before the European elections are scheduled to take place on 23-26 May. “If the UK has not left the EU by then, it will be legally required to hold the elections in line with the rights and obligations of all member states as set in our Treaties,” Juncker said in his letter to the European Council.

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On the UK’s side, May said that her government will make a declaration that it will be London’s understanding that if the talks breakdown on alternative arrangements to the backstop, the UK can unilaterally revoke the agreement, to which Juncker warned that if the deal was voted down on Tuesday, Britain must understand that “no third chance” is available.

May said the “joint legally-binding instrument” for the Withdrawal Agreement could be used to start a “formal dispute” against the EU if it tried to keep the UK tied to the backstop. Due to the fact that UK officials have clarified over the course of the last several days that it was not the nature of the backstop itself that was causing problems, but that London felt “trapped” as the safety net designed to maintain an open border between EU-member Ireland and Northern Ireland in the UK would not allow Britain to exit unilaterally.

“MPs were clear that legal changes were needed to the backstop. Today we have secured legal changes,” said May. “Now is the time to come together to back this improved Brexit deal and deliver on the instruction of the British people,” she added.

The clock is now ticking for British parliamentarian to reassess the situation, and the agreement, as a whole before to avoid a no-deal scenario.

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