The Prime Minister and the president of the European Commission held “constructive” talks for over an hour when they met in Brussels yesterday. In a significant advance, Mr Juncker agreed to explore “alternative arrangements” to solve the impasse over the backstop arrangements for the Irish border. A joint statement released after their meeting said: “Both reconfirmed their commitment to avoiding a hard border on the island of Ireland and to respect the integrity of the EU’s internal market and of the United Kingdom.
“The two leaders agreed that talks had been constructive, and they urged their respective teams to continue to explore the options in a positive spirit. They will review progress again in the coming days, seized of the tight timescale and the historic significance of setting the EU and the UK on a path to a deep and unique future partnership.”
EU chief Brexit negotiator and Stephen Barclay, Secretary of State for Exiting the European, are expected to thrash out a new framework for the talks and Mrs May and Mr Juncker have agreed to speak again before the end of the month.
Mrs May is heading to a summit of European and Arab leaders in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh this weekend.
Downing Street said the trip to Egypt would provide her with an opportunity to discuss her proposals for a revised Brexit deal with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Irish premier Leo Varadkar and other European counterparts.
A senior Government official said: “There are important shared challenges to discuss with the league of Arab states like security co-operation.
This is not a meeting about Brexit and the Prime Minister is not seeking to turn it into one.
“At summits the Prime minister always holds a series of bilateral meetings and conversations and she will of course continue to engage her fellow leaders in relation to Brexit.
“But this isn’t a European Council meeting and it isn’t somewhere European Council decisions are going to be made.”
Meanwhile, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt yesterday said he was “confident” the Prime Minister could secure a deal that would win the backing of a majority of MPs.
Speaking during a visit to Berlin Mr Hunt said: “I am confident, Theresa May is confident, the British Government is confident, on the basis of huge numbers of discussions with UK Parliamentarians, that if we solve the issue of the backstop then we can pass this deal through Parliament.”