The Dutch leader told reporters on his arrival in Brussels: “There is nobody in their right mind in the EU who wants to trigger the backstop because this is bad news not only for the UK but also for the EU because you will get deviations”. His intervention comes as he sought to reassure Britain over Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit deal. Mrs May arrived in the EU capital this afternoon where she will address Brussels bosses at the two-day summit after seeing off rebels who attempted to remove her from the party leadership, winning by 200 votes to 117 in a confidence vote.
But Mrs May attempted to play down hopes she would be able to re-negotiate her Brexit deal with Brussels, saying: “My focus now is on ensuring that I can get those assurances that we need to get this deal over the line, because I genuinely believe it’s in the best interests of both sides – the UK and the EU – to get the deal over the line, to agree a deal.
“But I recognise the strength of concern in the House of Commons and that’s what I will be pushing to colleagues today.
“I don’t expect an immediate breakthrough, but what I do hope is that we can start work as quickly as possible on the assurances that are necessary.”
It comes after she held one-on-one talks with Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar before the summit after cancelling a planned trip to Dublin on Wednesday in order to fight for her leadership.
The political crisis in the UK has forced Brexit on to the agenda for the summit, which was already in the diaries of the continent’s leaders.
In his invitation letter to leaders of the EU member states, European Council president Donald Tusk said “given the seriousness of the situation”, Brexit would be discussed, with the heads of the 27 remaining states expected to hear from Mrs May and adopt conclusions on the next steps.
He has insisted the EU “wants to help” Theresa May but “the question is how”.
EU summit live: Theresa May is set for a showdown with EU leaders
Meanwhile, furious infighting among EU member states is set to kick off as the remaining 27 Euro nations argue over who will fill the massive financial blackhole left by Britain’s Brexit.
EU leaders will grapple with next long-term budget, the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) today, which will see the 27-member bloc count the cost of life without Britain.
It is understood Mrs May could also have a one-on-one meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron.
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EU summit live: Macron has said the Brexit deal cannot be renegotiated
8pm update: Donald Tusk REJECTS Theresa May demand for ‘one-year backstop’
Theresa May faced an outright rejection after asking Donald Tusk if the backstop could be strictly limited to a one-year period during a meeting earlier this week, it has emerged.
The Prime Minister held a number of last-ditch negotiations with the European Union’s most senior officials in a bid to win a number of concessions for her controversial Brexit deal.
She promised to return to Brussels for further negotiations after deciding to pull the so-called ‘Meaningful Vote’ because her plans would have been defeated by a “significant margins” if they were put to MPs in the House of Commons.
Express.co.uk understands one of the concessions requested by the Prime Minister was to include an end date to the Irish backstop, the insurance policy to prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland.
MPs are concerned that Brussels can hold Britain hostage in a customs union by refusing to negotiate a deal that supersedes the backstop mechanism because it doesn’t include a unilateral exit clause.
Mrs May asked Mr Tusk, the European Council President, about including an “outright end date” to the backstop but faced a swift and stern rejection from the EU chief.
EU Summit live: Theresa May asked Donald Tusk about including an “outright end date” to the backstop
6.45pm update: Brussels STRUGGLES to find a way to help Theresa May’s ailing Brexit deal
European Union leaders are split on how they can offer Theresa May a helping hand with her faltering Brexit deal during a crunch summit in Brussels.
The Prime Minister has travelled to the Belgian capital in a last-minute bid to secure a number of concessions to help win the approval of rebellious MPs who she said would vote down her plans by a “significant margin”.
But EU bosses have yet to find a unified approach as they wrangle with a number of possibilities to give Mrs May assurances that the EU has no ambitions to hold Britain hostage in the customs union via the Irish backstop.
Mrs May was told by concerned MPs to secure a “legally binding” guarantee that prevents Brussels from deliberately avoiding finalising a future trading relationship that supersedes the backstop, the insurance policy to prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland.
6.30pm update: EU rolls over economic sanctions against Russia
Speaking during the summit of the bloc’s leaders he was chairing, European Council President Donald Tusk said: “EU unanimously prolongs economic sanctions against Russia given zero progress in implementation of Minsk agreements.”
This refers to peace accords which moscow made with Ukraine, Germany and France, intended to end conflict in eastern Ukraine.
Last month, Russia seized three of Ukrainian navy ships and their crew off Crime
EU summit live: Sebastian Kurz wants more detail on Brexit
6.15pm update: Juncker’s SECRET message at EU Summit….and it will make you FURIOUS
Jean-Claude Juncker showed off what appeared to be a secret Brexit message at the EU Summit in Brussels today that will leave Britons seething as talks enter yet another crucial stage.
The European Commission President was said to be deliberately wearing a green tie with his suit as a show of support from the bloc for Ireland over the backstop issue.
Tom Connolly, Europe Editor for Irish state broadcaster RTE and author of the book Brexit and Ireland, posted a picture on Twitter of Jean-Claude Juncker sharing a warm welcome with Theresa May.
He captioned the image: “.@Juncker deliberately chose a green tie this morning, I’m told #euco.”
5.10pm update: Luxembourg PM RAGES about no-deal – ‘Brexit was YOUR idea, not mine!’
Xavier Bettel issued a ruthless statement this afternoon that left no room for renegotiation, emphasising that a no-deal Brexit was not his concern as Brexit “was the choice of the UK”.
Speaking immediately prior to an EU summit, he told a reporter: “If you think we should have explanations or more clarity I fully agree. But we can’t renegotiate. I hope that we will never have to use the backstop.
“We can speak about interpretations but I don’t want to change the deal we worked on for the last two years.”
The reporter replied: “If you don’t give her the concessions that she needs that deal will fail in parliament.
“You might end up with no deal – are you prepared to run that risk?”
Mr Bettel briefly seemed to lose his cool, and said: “Yes – the Brexit is your choice not mine.
“The Brexit was the choice of the UK, not the choice of us.
“We have to be able to be prepared for everything but I hope that we will be able to find a deal.”
EU summit live: Merkel has fired a warning shot at the UK
4.10pm update: Varadkar expects assurances given to May on backstop to be honoured
The Irish Prime Minister said: “What we want is an enduring assurance that there will not be a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, no matter what the circumstances.
“That is an assurance the UK Government gave us over a year ago. The Withdrawal Agreement puts that into law and now we would like to see that agreement ratified.”
He suggested Britain could suspend or end the Article 50 withdrawal process altogether, thus lifting the threat of a no-deal Brexit.
Mr Varadkar added: “It is possible, if the UK wishes to, to revoke Article 50 or, if that is a step too far, to seek an extension of Article 50 so that the UK Parliament has more time to come together and decide what they would like the outcome to be.”
3.55pm update: ‘Brexit Christmas wish: finally decide what you really want and Santa will deliver’ – Lithuanian President
Dalia Grybauskaite said in a light-hearted tweet that if Britons would just make up their mind about what they want from Brexit, the EU will make it happen.
The Lithuanian leader posted her thoughts as Theresa May began 24 hours of meetings with her 27 EU counterparts in Brussels.
3.40pm update: EU to rally behind Ukraine in its batle with Russia
EU leaders will continue to be united in their support for Ukraine in its standoff with Russia and their readiness to increase aid to the country.
A draft summit statement seen by Reuters revealed the EU’s 28 heads of state will offer the country help for its regions suffering after Russia seized three of its navy ships and their crew off Crimea last month.
Arriving at the summit, the bloc’s foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini told reporters leaders would discuss “a very substantial package of support to Ukraine that the European Union has put in place so far and is ready to strengthen.
3.20pm update: Macron vows never to put Europe ahead of demands from French people
The French President was speaking just days after he caved into an anti-tax revolt from yellow vest protestors following four weekends of successive violent demonstrations across the country.
But the tax breaks and other measures he is offering to appease the protestors are likely to push France’s budget above the European commission threshold of three percent of GDP.
Mr Macron told reporters in Brussels: “No country can move forward if it doesn’t listen to the legitimate anger of its people, an anger which is expressed everywhere in Europe.
“I will never carry out the European project, in which I believe, against aspirations I consider as legitimate. I think they can be reconciled and that’s what we’re trying to do.”
EU Summit live: Stefan Lofven says it will be hard to give May what she wants
Paul Withers taking over live reporting from Rebecca Perring.
2.41pm update: The UK decided to LEAVE – Irish PM
Leo Varadkar told reporters the backstop would be inoperable if it had an expiry date and allowed for a unilateral exit.
When asked about re-negotiating to avoid a no deal, he said: “The UK decided to leave the EU, so the deal has to be accepted by both sides.”
2.32pm update: Macron sets legal boundaries for Brexit
The French President said May’s Brexit deal already sets the legal bounds for action.
He said: “We can have a political discussion this evening, but the legal framework and the agreement have been negotiated and are not meant to be changed.
“Discussions on the modalities — they are part of this agreement — but I believe it is important to avoid any ambiguity: We can’t re-open a legal agreement and we can’t renegotiate what has been negotiated for several months.
“We can have a political discussion in this context, but it is up to May to tell us what is the political solution that she intends to lead to get a majority over the agreement.”
2.12pm udpdate: Sebastian Kurz urges for more detail on Brexit
Austria’s Chancellor said: “I think there are different opinions and groups in GB, some are against Brexit, some are against a hard Brexit and those who are supporting May and her deal anyway, therefore it is not that easy to answer.
“I believe the exit agreement is a good one, for this there were negotiations for a year and a half after all and in addition to this there is an agreement, or text, which is to regulate the future relationship, and here maybe some things can still be explained a bit better or defined a bit better, be more detailed. There is a bit of scope, which we should use.
EU Summit live: Mark Rutte said he admires Theresa May
1.58pm update: Angela Merkel fires stern warning to UK
The German Chancellor told Prime Minister Theresa May Europe “is united” against her.
She urged Mrs May to cave in on demands to talk fresh terms on Brexit, saying the EU’s red lines were there to stay.
Mrs Merkel said: “But of course we also have our basic values and I do not see that we could change the agreement again . Of course we can talk about additional securing but here the EU27 will be very united and make their interests clear.
“Always in the spirit that we want very good relations to Great Britain even after the exit.”
1.25pm update: Rutte urges Labour to show some respect
Speaking about his respect for Theresa May, the Dutch leader said: “I feel respect, I admire her tenacity, she’s a great leader and when I saw some of the Labour people laughing at her when she said she had listened I thought that was not very British.”
1.23pm update: Dutch PM says he HATES Brexit
Mark Rutte told reporters: “The UK decided to leave the EU. The UK decided to draw these red lines, Theresa May has, in an excellent way, agreed a withdrawal agreement.
He attempted to assure the UK, saying: “Nobody in there right mind wants to trigger the backstop.”
On triggering a second referendum, he said: “It’s up to UK , you know I hate Brexit from every angle. We are passed that moment.”
When quizzed over an extension on Article 50, he said:”It’s up to UK to ask for that. At the moment there is nothing on the table. Today is about demystifying backstop.We can make sure tonight that we listen and get clarity.”
EU summit live: May shares a friendly hug with Luxembourg PM Bettel
1.01pm update: Sweden asks UK ‘what do you want’
Sweden’s Prime Minister Stefan Lofven said “I find it hard to see it” when asked if it is possible for the EU to give May what she wants, including legally binding assurance that the backstop becomes temporary.
He said: “We are univocal on the fact that we will not renegotiate a deal. But if there is anything we can clarify or rewrite that would be a possibility.
“When it comes to the backstop, the UK wants an agreement saying the current deal will not last forever. And it won’t, but we will not set a date. This has been widely discussed and it is something we are very clear on.
“So I don’t know how to clarify the deal but we will not renegotiate the backstop. Another issue when it comes to the Brexit deal is that the House of Commons has not been clear telling us exactly what they would need for them to back the deal.
“We also don’t know what the Commons demands from Theresa May. You cannot negotiate anything if you don’t know what the counterpart demands and as things stand now, this is the last thing the EU will take into consideration. It is looking very unclear at the moment.
“I don’t know if she will get the British Parliament to back her Brexit deal, and it is hard for Theresa May to come here and negotiate when the Commons are being so indistinct. That also makes it hard for us to know what we can do to help them. The House of Commons must be more clear on what their demands are to be able to get this deal voted through.”
EU Summit: Theresa May has arrived in Brussels
12.58pm update: EU and UK needed an agreement – Estonia
Estonia PM Jüri Ratas said: “I’m sure both UK and EU need an agreement. Estonian priorities are interests of our citizens and businesses.”
12.51pm update: Finland vows to help UK
Finnish PM Juha Sipilä told reporters on his arrival in Brussels: “Legally binding assurances to Theresa May will be difficult, but we all want to help.
“Our primary goal is that new relationship will be before backstop… We have to have solution in case of no deal for future relationship.”
12.43pm update: May shares akward hug with Luxembourg PM
Xavier Bettel was caught off guard by May as he told reporters he was hoping to “help” the UK. As he spoke to the cameras, the Tory leader came from behind him to offer a friendly hug before telling him to carry on with his interview.
He added: “We are not here to renegotiate or make genuine changes, we are here to further clarify the deal agreed. I think renegotiations will be very very hard.”
12.39pm update: EU prepared for no deal Brexit
When quizzed over whether the EU was prepared for the risk in the event of a no deal, Xavier Bettel, Prime Minister of Luxembourg, said: “Brexit is your choice not mine.
“Brexit was a choice of the UK not us. We have to be able to be prepared for everything but I hope we have a deal.”
He added: “I think that Brexit is clear but needs more clarification on certain points for re-negotiations in all the folder (draft agreement).
“I’m content May has gained support from her parliament yesterday… but then she needs to renegotiate and clarify certain things. She needs to make a discussion and find a solution in due time.”
12pm update: Theresa May has arrived in Brussels
The Prime Minister said she “recognised the strength of concern in the House of Commons”.
But she admitted: “I don’t expect an immediate breakthrough, but what I do hope is that we can start to work as quickly as possible on the assurances that are necessary.”
11.40am update: Germany rules out changes to Brexit deal
German foreign minister Heiko Maas said With Mrs May as Tory leader there was “another chance” to get a majority in the House of Commons for the final Brexit agreement.
He said: “If the British government had been without a Prime Minister, no one would probably have known how to proceed.” W
However, he yet again ruled out changes to the Brexit agreement.
11.19am update: Austria offers UK to U-turn on Brexit
Speaking ahead of the European Council, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said: “If the British want to stay in the EU, they are always welcome. That would be a big win.”
When quizzed over whether he would support a second referndum in the UK, he told oe24.TV: “Yes, but to give you a realistic assessment: At the moment it is more about preventing a hard Brexit from happening, and to make sure that the exit will take place with a certain set of rules and in an orderly manner.”
Additional reporting by Monika Pallenberg and Amalie Henden