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Brexit talks fail to make breakthrough on Irish backstop, says EU

Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond speaks to Deputy Prime Minister of Belgium and Minister of Finance and Development Cooperation Alexander De Croo (left) outside number 11 Downing St, London. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Wednesday March 6, 2019. Photo credit should read: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

By Gavin Cordon, Press Association Whitehall Editor

The latest talks aimed at breaking the Brexit deadlock over the Northern Ireland backstop have failed to achieve a breakthrough, the European Commission has said.

The commission said there was still "no solution" to the impasse after the meeting on Tuesday in Brussels between the EU's chief negotiator Michel Barnier and Attorney General Geoffrey Cox and Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay.

The meeting took place as Theresa May prepared for next week's crunch "meaningful vote" in the Commons on her Brexit Withdrawal Agreement.

The Prime Minister has said she wants legally binding changes to the backstop - intended to prevent the return of a hard border on the island of Ireland - to ensure the UK is not tied to EU rules indefinitely, in order to convince MPs to back her deal.

However, Mr Barnier told the weekly meeting of the College of Commissioners in Brussels that the negotiations were proving "difficult" and a way forward had not been found.

The commission's chief spokesman Margaritis Schinas told reporters: "Michel Barnier was present and informed the commissioners that while the talks take place in a constructive atmosphere, discussions have been difficult.

"No solution has been identified at this point that is consistent with the Withdrawal Agreement, including the protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland which, as you all know, will not be reopened."

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