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Brexit: Theresa May heads to Brussels in last-ditch bid to save deal

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LONDON — Theresa May will travel to Brussels on Wednesday to meet EU officials with plans to secure major concessions on the Irish backstop which would persuade Conservative MPs to back the deal.

The trip comes after the British chancellor admitted late Tuesday evening that the Irish backstop could not be replaced by the so-called Malthouse compromise, a plan hatched by backbenchers which aimed to use unspecified technological solutions to avoid a hard border in Ireland.

Instead, the Prime Minister will meet Jean-Claude Juncker, the European Commission president, with a plan to secure legal assurances that the backstop would not permanently tie the UK into a customs union.

The Irish backstop is a legal fallback designed to stop new border checks having to take place between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland after Brexit.

Many Conservative MPs oppose the measure because they say it could keep the UK within the EU customs union indefinitely.

Chancellor Philip Hammond confirmed that the Malthouse compromise, which had been championed by opposing factions of the Tory party, was no longer considered a viable option.

He told the Make UK manufacturing conference that it “is clear that the EU will not consider replacing the backstop with such an alternative arrangement now.”

Juncker: Don’t expect ‘concrete outcome’

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Downing Street appears to be hoping for a breakthrough in the form of legal assurances that the Irish backstop would not be permanently binding.

If May and Juncker can agree upon a strategy on Wednesday, EU and UK officials would then be able to produce documents to give force to the new plan.

The EU has repeatedly said it will not reopen the Brexit deal which both sides struck last year. But some officials have floated the idea of a “legal codicil,” a document produced in tandem to the withdrawal agreement which clarifies its legal definition

The goal is for that legal addendum to allow Geoffrey Cox, the UK attorney-general, to change his legal advice, which currently says that the backstop could be permanent.

Cox is expected to give a speech later this week.

But Juncker dismissed the likelihood of significant progress at today’s talks at a press conference in Stuttgart on Tuesday.

He said: “There isn’t enough movement for me to be able to expect this to be a discussion with a concrete outcome.”

“I don’t know what Mrs May will communicate to me tomorrow,” he said, adding that he was unsure what “our British friends would actually like to have.”

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