British Prime Minister Theresa May’s attempt to win assurances from the European Union on her Brexit deal was cast by opponents on Friday as a humiliating failure that did nothing to ease the parliamentary deadlock over Britain’s departure from the bloc.
EU leaders all ruled out new legally binding accords to amend the package, though they assured her that it should not bind Britain forever to EU rules. One source said May had no solid answers on what she wanted when grilled by EU leaders.
May, having on Wednesday survived a plot in her party to oust her, asked for EU help at a summit in Brussels after admitting that the Brexit deal she had struck last month would be defeated in the British Parliament.
“It seems that the prime minister has failed in her bid to deliver meaningful changes to her Brexit deal,” the opposition Labour Party’s Brexit spokesman, Keir Starmer, said.
“We cannot go on like this. The prime minister should reinstate the vote on her deal next week and let Parliament take back control,” he said.
British newspapers said May had been humiliated.
“EU leaders reject May’s idea to salvage floundering Brexit deal,” The Guardian said. “Stabbed in the backstop: EU leaders tell PM to get stuffed,” The Sun newspaper’s headline said.
May sought help to overcome opposition at home to the treaty’s “Irish backstop” – an insurance clause obliging Britain to follow EU trade regulations until a better way is found to avoid a damaging “hard border” across the island of Ireland.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and others ruled out any reopening of last month’s treaty aimed at easing Britain out of the bloc on March 29.
With British politics in crisis, the ultimate outcome of Brexit is unclear, with possible courses ranging from a disorderly Brexit with no deal to another referendum on EU membership.
May’s de-facto deputy, David Lidington, said the summit was a welcome first step.
But her opponents saw it as a failure.
“I think what you saw last night was the complete failure of the British negotiating position laid bare,” Brexit campaigner Nigel Farage said.
Diplomats said May indicated she would want to come back for a second bite of “assurances” with “legal force,” and some said they would be willing to listen and try to accommodate her.
But leaders also warned that the EU was prepared for Britain to leave without a deal rather than risk unraveling its own system of close integration: “We have postponed the showdown moment. It will come back in January,” one EU diplomat said.
“There is little we can actually do to save the deal. If it falls, it’s because there is no will in the U.K. Parliament.”