No Brussels breakthrough for May after day of defections

Brussels, Feb 21 (NNN/MIA/ dpa/PNN) — Embattled British Prime Minister Theresa May has concluded another meeting in Brussels on Thursday with no shortage breakthrough, after three leading pro-EU Conservatives resigned from her party.

After May puts with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, the two sides issued a statement saying talks would continue.

May and Juncker said they will meet again before the end of the month. May called the talks “constructive” and said that the two sides made “progress.”

Still, the inconclusive meeting is a turbulent day for May, following the resignation of Conservatives Heidi Allen, Anna Soubry and Sarah Wollaston. May said she was “saddened” by the news but insisted that she is “doing the right thing” by continuing with her plan.

Soubry, a leading supporter of the People’s Vote campaign for a second Brexit referendum, said her decision was motivated by a “belief that the Conservative Party is drifting to the right wing of British politics.”

“I have also recognized that many constituents feel their views are not represented by either party,” Soubry said in an email to constituents, referring to Labor and the Conservatives.

The trio plan to remain in parliament as independent and cooperative “in the center ground of British politics” with a new Independent Group formed by eight pro-EU lawmakers who resigned from their party this week.

Wollaston told the BBC she hoped that “we will be able to develop a new political party,” urging lawmakers who “share our values” to join them.

In a statement on the resignations, May said she was “saddened by this decision.”

“Of course, the UK’s membership of the EU has been a source of disagreement both in our party and our country for a long time,” she said.

“Ending that membership after four decades was never going to be easy. But by delivering on our manifesto commitment and implementing the decision of the British people [in the 2016 Brexit referendum], we are doing the right thing for our country,” May said.

Allen, Soubry and Wollaston said in a joint letter to May that they felt they could no longer remain in “the party of a government whose policies and priorities are so firmly in the grip of the ERG and DUP.”

The trio referred to the European Research Group of some 80 eurosceptic Conservative lawmakers and to Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party, whose 10 lawmakers have propped up May’s minority government since June 2017.

The resignations reduce the number of Conservative lawmakers to 314 in the 650-seat Commons, parliament’s main elected house.

The parliamentary flux comes amid a long-drawn-out impasse over Brexit, with London and Brussels unable to agree on a politically viable deal to regulate Britain’s departure from the bloc.

May has told parliament that she would continue to seek changes to the “backstop” arrangement designed to guarantee an open Irish border after Brexit.

May said a “number of ways” were under discussion to alter the backstop, ahead of an expected vote on the Brexit process next week.

“I’ve underlined the need for us to see legally binding changes to the backstop which ensure it cannot be indefinite,” she told Sky News after her meeting with Juncker.

“That’s what is required if a deal is going to pass the House of Commons,” she said.

The subject will be taken up by British and EU negotiators in Brussels again on Thursday, May said.

In related news, opposition Labor leader Jeremy Corbyn and other Labor representatives will also be in Brussels on Thursday, meeting with the EU’s top Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier.

EU officials have insisted that the bloc will not renegotiate any part of Britain’s existing withdrawal agreement, including the backstop, with just five weeks until Britain is due to leave the European Union on March 29.

The British parliament voted in May, after May’s cabinet approved it.

Soubry, Allen, and Wollaston, May their deal, their resignations are unlikely to affect the parliamentary arithmetic on Brexit .