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Key talks on agreement

May heads to Brussels in bid to remove Brexit blocks

Theresa May and Jean-Claude Juncker

Theresa May and Jean-Claude Juncker, the EC president

Theresa May will meet EU officials today in a last gasp attempt to finalise a Brexit deal in time for Sunday’s summit of European leaders.

Stumbling blocks remain over UK access to the EU single market, access to UK waters for EU boats and Gibraltar.

The meeting is crucial for Mrs May who is facing a potential rebellion among her backbenchers over her “agreement” and pressure to seek further concessions from the EU.

While appearing to have seen off the threat of a leadership challenge all sides in the Commons have warned of a “blind Brexit” in which the UK signs up to a series of legally-binding commitments in the draft withdrawal agreement, without similar guarantees over future trading arrangements.

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon held talks with the prime minister in London and said they had a “full, frank and calm” exchange of views.

She said Mrs May had shown her the latest draft of her plan but claimed it was a “vague, aspirational document”.

Number 10 said it was “the best deal that could have been negotiated”.

Ms Sturgeon said: “I’ve seen today the current draft – it’s not binding, it doesn’t have legal effect and effectively it amounts to the House of Commons being asked to vote to exit the EU without knowing what comes next.

“That’s asking people to take a blindfold leap off a cliff edge and I have said all along I just don’t think that’s a reasonable or acceptable thing to do.

“Perhaps if there had been more willingness to listen to different voices over the past couple of years we would be in a better position now.

“There’s an argument that says we’re getting a little late in the day for that meaningful engagement but as long as the possibility is there I will take it.”

Business poll

The first poll of business leaders since the publication of the draft Brexit Withdrawal Agreement reveals directors back getting a deal approved.

In a survey of over 800 members of the Institute of Directors, three quarters said that it was important that a withdrawal agreement is ratified before the UK leaves the European Union, allowing for a transition period after March 2019. 

Two thirds of those surveyed said that a no deal outcome would be bad for their business, with almost a half saying this scenario would be ‘very negative’ for their organisation. Just 13% said a no-deal Brexit would be positive.

Members were split on the question of whether a second referendum would be in their interests, with 46% for and 44% against.

Spain cautions on deal

Spain has warned it will reject the draft deal without a clarification of the text on future talks on the status of Gibraltar.

Spain maintains a claim to the peninsula, ceded to the British crown under the 1713 Treaty of Utrecht and it wants to ensure that future EU talks with the UK do not cover Gibraltar.

Separately, Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Borrell has said that Spain would welcome an independent Scotland into the EU.

When asked about the future of Scotland, Mr Borrell said: “If Westminster agrees, we are not going to be more Papist than the pope. If Westminster agrees why would we be against it?”

He continued: “I think the United Kingdom will split apart before Spain. That is a clear sign of the United Kingdom’s weakness.”

The intervention follows an opinion poll which found that Scots overwhelmingly believe that an independent Scotland would be granted EU membership – with 63% agreeing, and only 22% disagreeing.

SNP MSP George Adam said: “This intervention confirms what people in Scotland already know – and demolishes a favoured Unionist scare-story. 

“Independence will allow Scotland to be an equal partner within Europe – instead of being dragged out against our will by the Tories.

“That message of hope is increasingly powerful as the reality of a Tory hard Brexit begins to bite.”

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