Surprise, surprise... talks about the Irish backstop fail

Brexit secretary Stephen Barclay leads his team out of his office including Attorney general Geoffrey Cox. Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire.

Brexit secretary Stephen Barclay leads his team out of his office including Attorney general Geoffrey Cox. Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire.

The latest talks aimed at breaking the Brexit deadlock over the Northern Ireland backstop have failed to achieve a breakthrough, the European Commission has said.

The commission said there was still “no solution” to the impasse after the meeting in Brussels between the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier and attorney general Geoffrey Cox and Brexit secretary Stephen Barclay.

The meeting took place as Theresa May prepared for next week’s crunch “meaningful vote” in the Commons on her Brexit Withdrawal Agreement.

The prime minister has said she wants legally binding changes to the backstop - intended to prevent the return of a hard border on the island of Ireland - to ensure the UK is not tied to EU rules indefinitely, in order to convince MPs to back her deal.

However, Barnier told the weekly meeting of the College of Commissioners in Brussels that the negotiations were proving “difficult” and a way forward had not been found.

The commission’s chief spokesman Margaritis Schinas told reporters: “Michel Barnier was present and informed the commissioners that while the talks take place in a constructive atmosphere, discussions have been difficult.

“No solution has been identified at this point that is consistent with the Withdrawal Agreement, including the protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland which, as you all know, will not be reopened.”

Best for Britain supporter Virendra Sharma MP said: “We have heard the EU say the same thing countless times now. But the government continues to roll it’s terrible deal in glitter. The prime minister is intent on chasing unicorns instead of putting the national interest first.

“With no breakthrough in sight for negotiations, the government has nowhere left to hide.

“The prime minister’s botched Brexit deal must be voted down, and Brexit must be put back in the hands of the British people”

Meanwhile, International Trade Secretary Liam Fox has refused to rule out backing a no-deal Brexit if the Withdrawal Agreement is voted down by MPs next week.

Dr Fox, who campaigned for Leave in the 2016 referendum, told the Commons International Trade Committee that no-deal was “hugely sub-optimal, compared to getting a deal”.

But asked whether the government would back no-deal in the vote scheduled for the following day if the agreement fails, he said: “Potentially all things are possible.”

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