BREXIT CHAOS: May ‘not hopeful’ of backstop breakthrough – delay or no deal MORE LIKELY

Negotiations in the Belgian capital last night saw Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay and Attorney General Geoffrey Cox attempt to secure additional assurances on the Irish backstop. But after a four-hour meeting, UK and EU negotiators left empty handed. And despite Mr Cox earlier expressing hope that a deal could be done, the Prime Minister was not hopeful they would succeed, Bloomberg reports.

Meanwhile, chief whip Julian Smith has reportedly told Cabinet ministers he is not confident Mrs May’s deal will pass when it comes before the Commons again next week.

The gloomy outlook from Number 10 means a delay to Brexit is looking more likely as an extension to the Article 50 process appears to be the only option with a chance of commanding a majority.

Britain is due to leave the EU in 24 days, but Parliament’s rejection of Mrs May’s deal in January has cast major doubt over when, or if, Brexit will take place.

Last night the Brexit Secretary and Attorney General met with senior EU officials including the bloc’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier.

Mrs May charged the pair with securing changes to the contentious Irish backstop arrangement with a time limit or unilateral exit clause for the UK top of the list of demands.

Despite Mr Cox declaring there had been “very constrictive dialogue” with his EU counterparts, the Government is reportedly not expecting a breakthrough.

Citing a person familiar with Mrs May’s thinking, Bloomberg reports Downing Street is preparing for talks to head into the weekend – just days before MPs will vote again on the Brexit deal.

But the Government is said to be expecting that this vote, likely to be on March 12, will also end in defeat.

Three sources said Mr Smith told Cabinet ministers that he was not confident Mrs May’s deal will pass.

If the Government’s exit terms are rejected by the Commons, MPs will then vote on whether to proceed with no deal or whether Britain should seek to extend Article 50.

And while there is not a majority to support no deal, it is believed MPs could back a delay.

Meanwhile, the First Ministers of Scotland and Wales have increased the pressure on Mrs May and demanded her ”reckless” behaviour over Brexit “must stop now”.

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and her Welsh counterpart Mark Drakeford spoke out after politicians in Edinburgh and Cardiff took a “united and historic step” to vote against both Theresa May’s withdrawal deal and the prospect of a no-deal Brexit.

In a debate at Holyrood Ms Sturgeon had insisted that this would be “unforgivably reckless”.

Afterwards the two first ministers said: “For the first time in the 20-year history of devolution, the National Assembly for Wales and the Scottish Parliament voted simultaneously to oppose a damaging no-deal Brexit.

“The vast majority of members across both chambers voted in agreement that a no-deal outcome would be completely unacceptable and that an extension to Article 50 is the best way forward to protect Wales, Scotland and the UK as a whole.”

A UK Government spokeswoman said Mrs May’s exit terms represent a good deal for Scotland, Wales and the whole of the UK.

The spokeswoman added: “Refusing to support the Prime Minister’s deal simply makes a damaging no-deal more likely.”


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