Despite the EU’s repeated declarations that the Withdrawal Agreement for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union is non-negotiable, British Prime Minister Theresa May is expected in Brussels on February 7, a day after Ireland’s head of state, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, hold talks with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.

May is expected to hold a tête-à-tête with Juncker, followed by a meeting of the two sides’ negotiating teams, including the presence of the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier.

May will also meet with European Council President Donald Tusk to discuss the current situation, which sees May weakened after the Withdrawal Agreement was shot down by the British House of Commons last month which has left her with few options as to how to proceed with the United Kingdom’s unilateral decision to leave the bloc.

“The European Union’s position is clear,” the chief spokesperson for the EU’s executive Commission, Margaritis Schinas, told reporters on February 5. “We are expecting, waiting, once again, to hear what the (UK) prime minister has to tell us.”

According to an EU official, if May plans to ask for an extension of the negotiating period, she needs to come with a concrete proposal on the table.

In the lead up to her visit to Brussels, May made guarantees to the people of Northern Ireland that she was focused on trying to change the backstop to maintain an open border on the island of Ireland rather than replace it. Those words came despite her previous proclamations to the contrary, which were aimed at sceptical parliamentarians ahead of the vote on the Withdrawal Agreement.

According to May, the four guarantees for Northern Ireland include no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland; no customs border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK; the continuation of co-operation mechanisms between the UK and Ireland; and upholding the principles of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement that ended the decades-long sectarian conflict between the Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland.
 “I’m here today to affirm my commitment, and that of the UK Government, to all of the people of Northern Ireland, of every background and tradition,” said May, reiterating that her commitment to avoiding a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland was “unshakeable”.