Theresa May hits back after summit humiliation
UK Prime Minister Theresa May's efforts to save her faltering Brexit deal ended in acrimony Friday, as EU leaders sent her away empty-handed and a leading official denounced her plans as "nebulous."
After being forced to pull a vote on her deal in the House of Commons, May pleaded with EU leaders to add legal assurances that would assuage lawmakers furious over a crucial element, the so-called Irish backstop.
But after an apparently lackluster presentation by May, EU leaders rejected the demands -- all but killing any hope of a parliamentary breakthrough in London -- and instead stepped up plans for a no-deal Brexit.
In a late-night press conference, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker was withering. "Our UK friends need to say what they want, rather than asking what we want," he told reporters. "We would like in a few weeks for our UK friends to set out their expectations because this debate is sometimes nebulous and imprecise and I would like clarifications."
While he said May had been "fighting hard and bravely," he expressed doubt that any deal would get through the British Parliament in its current form.
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At a news conference Friday, May acknowledged that members of Parliament "will require more assurances" than she has been able to wring from fellow EU leaders so far and said she would be "holding talks in the coming days" in pursuit of those.
But she also insisted that both sides want to make it work, and said the conclusions issued by the other 27 EU leaders Thursday night were welcome and "take us forward."
May added that the EU had given its clearest statement yet that it had no intention of the backstop ever being necessary; that if it were necessary, it would be temporary; and that the EU was ready to work quickly with the United Kingdom to establish their future relationship.
The Prime Minister insisted she had been "crystal clear" about the assurances on the backstop required by Brtish MPs -- an apparent rebuff of Juncker's characterization of the British position as "nebulous." Asked about an apparently frosty exchange with Juncker, May acknowledged they had had a "robust" discussion.
May's plea to EU leaders
Addressing EU leaders Thursday, May had urged them to provide guarantees on the Irish backstop, an insurance policy designed to avoid the return of customs posts on the Irish border. "We have to change the perception that the backstop could be a trap from which the UK could not escape," May told EU leaders, according to Downing Street.
She urged them to "trust me to do what is right," Downing Street said, saying it was in no-one's interests to "run the risk of an accidental 'no-deal' with all the disruption that would bring."
May put forward a two-stage process -- a political declaration now, and a legally binding assurance in January, an EU diplomat told CNN.
But her plans did not go down well. Leaders were looking for two things from May yesterday: a concrete proposal to break the impasse and assurance that she could get it over the line in Parliament. They got neither, the diplomat said.
After May's presentation, said to have been short on specifics, the final text of the summit's conclusions was changed to cut a suggestion that the EU consider what further assurances could be provided to the UK, another EU diplomat said. A reference to contingency preparations for a no-deal exit was left intact.