LONDON/STRASBOURG (Reuters) – Prime Minister Theresa May clinched legally binding Brexit assurances with the European Union on Monday in a last ditch attempt to win over rebellious MPs who have threatened to vote down her divorce deal again.
Scrambling to plot an orderly path out of the Brexit maze just days before the United Kingdom is due to leave on March 29, May rushed to Strasbourg to agree additional assurances with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.
Brexiteers in May’s party accuse her of surrendering to the EU and it was not clear if the assurances she agreed would be enough to win over the 116 additional MPs she needs turn around the crushing defeat her deal suffered on Jan. 15.
May has secured “legally binding changes” which improve the Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration, Cabinet Office Minister David Lidington, who May’s de facto deputy, told the British parliament.
The changes address the most contentious part of the divorce deal she agreed in November – the insurance policy aimed at avoiding controls on the sensitive border between the British province of Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland.
Lidington said the sides had agreed a joint legally binding instrument that commits both sides to work to replace the backstop with alternative arrangements by December 2020.
“The EU cannot try to trap the UK in the backstop indefinitely, and that doing so would be an explicit breach of the legally binding commitments that both sides have agreed,” Lidington said.
The EU and Britain have also agreed a joint statement to supplement the Political Declaration, Lidington said.
Sterling, which has see-sawed on Brexit news, jumped 0.8 percent to $1.3250 in Asian trade and rallied to the strongest against the euro since mid-2017.