British PM's Brexit defeat looms over EU summit

2017-12-14 13:43
Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May. (Dan Kitwood, Pool via AP, file)

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May. (Dan Kitwood, Pool via AP, file)

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Brussels - British Prime Minister Theresa May heads to a Brussels summit on Thursday reeling from a parliamentary defeat over Brexit that threatens to undermine her just as EU leaders back the opening of trade talks.

The other 27 leaders are expected during the two-day meeting in Brussels to endorse an interim deal on the terms of Britain's divorce that May sealed with the EU last week after months of torturous negotiations.

But on the eve of the summit May's own lawmakers rebelled to demand that parliament have the final say on any Brexit agreement before Britain leaves the European Union on March 29, 2019.

READ From referendum to Brexit deal: Key dates

The fresh blow to May's authority will renew fears in Brussels about her ability to push through a deal and avoid a disorderly Brexit - something EU President Donald Tusk said this week would involve a "furious race against time" to avoid.

Leaders are expected on Friday to give the green light for a second phase of talks covering a post-Brexit transition phase, and future relations between Britain and the EU, including a possible trade deal.

'Give and take'

European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker recommended the move after all-night talks with May last week, saying Britain had made "sufficient progress" on its divorce bill, the fate of the Irish border, and protections for European expats living in Britain.

May is expected to tell leaders over dinner on Thursday - she will not be at the summit on Friday - that the interim deal "required give and take by both sides, but a fair outcome has been achieved", a senior British government official said.

The deal was a rare moment of triumph for the British prime minister, who has been struggling to assert her authority since losing her parliamentary majority in a disastrous snap election in June.

But the run-up to the summit has already been marred by a row over suggestions by Brexit minister David Davis that the provisional deal was not legally binding and Britain would not pay its exit bill without a trade deal.

"She will add that she very much welcomes the prospect of moving ahead to the next phase to talk about trade and security, as part of the positive and ambitious future relationship that is in the interests of the UK and the EU, and to reach agreement on an implementation (transition) period as soon as possible," the official said.

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Read more on:    theresa may  |  uk  |  brexit

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