“British friends, cross-party co-operation will have to happen!”

Theresa May, the British prime minister, has vowed to return to Brussels to secure changes to the withdrawal agreement between the UK and the EU settling Britain's departure from the bloc, but what has been the reaction from Brussels?  So far, on this side of the English Channel all movers and shakers are sticking by the mantra that no renegotiation is possible.

Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament's Brexit spokesman, knows how it feels to be a PM in a pickle, but this morning he is offering no easy way out for the British PM.

"Nothing" or at best "little" can be changed to the Brexit deal. Theresa May has pledged to return from Brussels with new, alternative solutions for keeping the Irish-Northern Irish border open, but former Belgian PM Verhofstadt says that only changes to the text on the UK's future relationship will be possible.  The agreement made in November cannot be changed.

This being said, speaking on VRT radio Mr Verhofstadt sounded an upbeat note.  He believes agreement can be found with the UK.  A solution won't be reached by tinkering with the withdrawal deal.  The former Belgium PM believes the solution lies in UK parliamentary parties coming with a proposal on the UK's future relationship with the EU.  Such a proposal over UK party lines would mean the Irish backstop that is contested in the UK will never be needed.

"The Backstop is only required when there is no agreement on the future relationship.  Cross-party agreement in the UK is needed.  I hope Labour and the Conservatives sit round the table to find and elaborate a solution soon."

The European Parliament's Brexit spokesman realises there is a mountain to climb: "In the UK politics is a fight to the death. Cross party co-operation is rare.  But it will have to happen!"

Mr Verhofstadt indicates that on the future relationship the EU will be accommodating: "We are willing to look at the future relationship together with our British friends.  This could be a customs union or even the single market.  There is no appetite in the UK to draw things out further." 

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