Brexit backstop legal risk 'unchanged': UK's Cox

Brexit backstop legal risk 'unchanged': UK's Cox

United Kingdom prime minister Theresa May has in Strasbourg secured last minute legal changes to the Irish backstop and is urging MPs to back her negotiated withdrawal agreement.

Just before midnight local time on Monday night President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker announced that he and May had in Strasbourg agreed on a "joint legally binding instrument" relating to the withdrawal agreement which "provides clarification and legal guarantees on the backstop".

The UK Attorney General Geoffrey Cox has said the legal risk remains unchanged that the UK would have no internationally lawful means of exiting the Irish backstop in the event of Brexit.

Three new documents have been agreed to run alongside the withdrawal agreement, which governs Britain's exit terms, and the political declaration on future trade terms. Should that happen, on Thursday a motion to delay Brexit past March 29 date of departure will be voted on. The UK could challenge the European Union in court if it tried to do so and, if successful, suspend the backstop.

British officials have said an exit agreement that locked Britain into a Customs Union with Europe was unacceptable but they struggled to secure changes in the deal agreed to late previous year.

The British government states it has secured "legally binding changes" from the address concerns about the border between Ireland and British-controlled Northern Ireland - a main factor in the rejection of the deal earlier this year.

But prominent Brexit supporters whose support May needs were unconvinced.

Weeks of talks failed to make a breakthrough, but May made a last-minute trip to Strasbourg to meet European Union leaders on the eve of the vote.

The Conservative MP for Haltemprice and Howden said that Mrs May's deal will be defeated in the House of Commons this evening if Mr Cox does not ensure the changes have legal standing.

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Shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer said that "no significant changes" had been secured in two months of negotiations and the Government's strategy was "in tatters".

Scores of Tory MPs put aside their objections and swung behind a hoarse-voiced PM after her final plea for unity, as she warned that "Brexit could be lost" if her deal was rejected again.

Concerns hinged on measures keeping the border between European Union member Ireland and Britain's Northern Ireland open after Brexit.

May hoped the changes would be enough to overturn the 230-vote margin of defeat for the deal in January.

Any postponement would have to be approved by the leaders of the other 27 nations, who are next meeting at a Brussel's summit on March 21st and 22nd - a week before Brexit day.

With the deal all but dead, Parliament will probably vote to postpone Brexit later this week, and lawmakers - including some of May's own Cabinet - will likely try to maneuver to force the government to rip up its Brexit plans and start again.

Irish Taioseach Leo Varadkar said he hoped the House of Commons would endorse the deal.

But Britain's attorney general, Geoffrey Cox, dealt a blow to May's plans, saying the assurances she had been given still meant the United kingdom could be locked in the bloc's orbit after Brexit, the most controversial issue for Brexit-supporting lawmakers.

"If there is a solution to the current impasse, it can only be found in London", it said, adding that "today's vote has significantly increased the likelihood of a "no-deal" Brexit".

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