Belfast Telegraph

UK 'flexible' over backstop issue in bid to break deadlock, insists Foreign Secretary

By David Hughes

The UK is prepared to be "flexible" over how to address concerns over the backstop, Jeremy Hunt said as efforts continued to end the Brexit impasse.

Foreign Secretary Mr Hunt said Europe's leaders were "prepared to be reasonable" as Prime Minister Theresa May presses for concessions from the EU that will persuade MPs to back her Brexit deal in next week's expected crunch Commons vote.

Mr Hunt, who has been part of a diplomatic push in capital cities around the European Union, said: "I think the signals we are getting are reasonably positive. I don't want to overstate them because I still think there's a lot of work to do, but I think they do understand that we are being sincere.

"I think that they are beginning to realise that we can get a majority in Parliament because they are seeing the signals coming from the people who voted against the deal before who are saying, crucially, that they are prepared to be reasonable about how we get to that position that we can't legally be trapped in the backstop."

Attorney General Geoffrey Cox has reportedly dropped attempts to secure either a time limit or a unilateral exit mechanism from the backstop in the face of entrenched opposition from the EU. Asked whether they were still the UK's demands, Mr Hunt told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that the crucial issue was avoiding an indefinite backstop and "how we get there is something we are prepared to be flexible about". That could mean a role for a "fair arbitration mechanism", he said.

Mr Cox had earlier poured cold water on the claims about his demands being dropped, describing them as "misunderstood fag ends dressed up as facts".

The Prime Minister is set to bring her deal back to the Commons for a vote by March 12. If it is rejected, MPs will get the chance to either back a no-deal Brexit or call for the UK's departure from the EU to be delayed beyond the current March 29 deadline.

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