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May engages with leaders in effort to shift Brexit talks logjam

By PA Reporters

Theresa May has spoken to European leaders ahead of a meeting with key Brussels figures as part of an ongoing diplomatic push to break the deadlock in Brexit negotiations.

The Prime Minister and French President Emmanuel Macron "discussed progress" in exit talks and agreed to go over "next steps" on the margins of a crunch summit of EU leaders later this week, Downing Street said.

Mrs May also discussed "the importance of maintaining constructive progress" in negotiations with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and reiterated Britain's commitment to maintaining a soft Irish border.

The phone calls took place ahead of Mrs May's showdown in Brussels with EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier and commission president Jean-Claude Juncker, just days after they said exit negotiations were deadlocked.

Downing Street sources insisted the meeting had "been in the diary for weeks", but the announcement caused surprise in Westminster and comes after last week's negotiations ended with little movement.

The Prime Minister will hope to end the stalemate over withdrawal issues including a "divorce bill", the Irish border, and citizens' rights, which are holding up talks on a post-Brexit trading relationship.

After the fifth round of exit negotiations were brought to a close last week, Mr Barnier said he would not recommend to EU leaders that talks move on to trade when he attends the European Council summit on Thursday.

Mrs May's deputy Damian Green said the UK and EU are "moving closer" to agreement on citizens' rights, acknowledged the divorce bill was "one of the most difficult" withdrawal issues, and stressed the Government would "keep making constructive suggestions".

But Mrs May was not expected to make any new offers on the withdrawal issues at her meeting with Mr Juncker and Mr Barnier.

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