Prime Minister Theresa May is making headway in efforts to amend the terms of Brexit and is hoping for further progress when she meets EU leaders in Egypt, a cabinet colleague said Sunday.
But Environment Secretary Michael Gove downplayed the prospect of abreakthrough that could allow the House of Commons to vote again on thewithdrawal agreement this week.
“I understand that progress is being made,” he told BBC television. Askedwhether a new vote by MPs was imminent, he said: “I don’t know.”
May was headed Sunday to an EU-Arab League summit in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.
“It’s an opportunity for her to talk to other EU leaders in order to tryto make further progress,” Gove said, as Brexit day looms on March 29. Mayhas face-to-face talks planned with European Council president Donald Tusk, Germany’s Angela Merkel and Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar.
After MPs rejected her withdrawal deal last month, May is seeking to amend its most controversial element, the so-called Irish backstop clause.
This would keep Britain in a customs union with the EU after Brexit if anduntil another way — for example, a free trade deal — were found to keep the border with Ireland free-flowing.
The EU has said it will not reopen the text, but is looking at what“guarantees” could be given to reassure MPs that the backstop would betemporary.
Gove said the government was still discussing various ways to address MPs’concerns with the EU.
“It could be a time limit, it could be a unilateral exit mechanism,” hesaid — citing two options Brussels has publicly rejected.
He added: “And it could be another legally powerful protocol or additionto the treaty that makes it clear that we would not be bound in the backstopindefinitely against our will.”
May has promised to update parliament on her efforts on Tuesday and either put hold a new vote on the deal or allow MPs on Wednesday to debate their own ideas for the way forward.
Three of her cabinet ministers on Saturday warned that if there was nobreakthrough this week then parliament would vote to delay Brexit rather than risk leaving the EU with no deal.
Speaking to activists in her Conservative party on Saturday, May said: “Inthe very final stages of this process, the worst thing we could do is loseour focus.”