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EU warns it will not reopen agreement on Irish backstop

A sign for currency exchange and 'No border' is seen on the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland in Jonesborough, Northern Ireland December 10, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne

By Gavin Cordon and David Hughes, Press Association Political Staff

The European Commission has issued a fresh warning that it will not reopen the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement as Theresa May prepared for further talks in Brussels.

The Prime Minister will meet commission president Jean-Claude Juncker in the Belgian capital on Wednesday evening, commission chief spokesman Margaritis Schinas announced.

The meeting follows talks on Monday between the the EU's chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, and Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay and Attorney General Geoffrey Cox.

Afterwards, Mr Barclay described their discussions on the issue of the Northern Ireland backstop - which remains the main stumbling block to a deal - as "productive".

At the daily briefing for journalists in Brussels, Mr Schinas said that the EU side wanted to achieve an "orderly" withdrawal by the UK on March 29 as planned.

However, he made clear the EU was not prepared to give ground on Mrs May's key demands - either to include an exit clause or a time limit on the backstop or to replace it with an alternative arrangement.

"The EU will not reopen the Withdrawal Agreement. We cannot accept a time limit to the backstop or a unilateral exit clause," he said.

"Further talks will be held this week to see whether a way through can be found that would gain the broadest possible support in the UK Parliament and respect the guidelines agreed by the European Council.

"We are listening and working with the UK Government to see how we can work for an orderly withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union on March 29. That is where we are."

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