Theresa May has risked Brexiteer fury by assuring European leaders that the divisive Irish backstop will remain in any final deal.

Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament's Brexit chief, said Ms May told senior MEPs "there is no question to remove the backstop", which acts as an insurance policy against a hard border on the island of Ireland.

The prime minister held "robust" talks with European Commission chief Jean Claude Juncker in Brussels, where the pair agreed to open negotiations on the future relationship between the UK and the EU.

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But Mr Juncker stuck by his refusal to reopen the Brexit deal, dampening hopes that the EU could allow Ms May to strip the backstop from the agreement to appease MPs.

It comes as Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn faced a row from his own MPs after laying out the terms under which the party would back Ms May’s deal – but making no reference to a second referendum.

Here is how we covered the days events:

Welcome to The Independent's politics liveblog, where we will be bringing you all the latest updates throughout the day.

A war of words has further undermined Theresa May’s mission to Brussels to rescue her Brexit deal, after the EU warned of a “special place in hell” for politicians who botched the project.

Downing Street and Tory politicians hit back angrily after the extraordinary attack by Donald Tusk on those who triumphed in the referendum “without even a sketch of a plan how to carry it safely”.

More here: 

David Lidington, the de-facto deputy PM, said Donald Tusk's comment "wasn't the most brilliant diplomacy in the world".

He told BBC Radio 4's Today: "I think Mr Tusk was venting yesterday, but I don't think that will detract from what I expect to be a courteous and sensible grown-up discussion between the different EU leaders and the prime minister."

Mr Lidington said he and Brexit secretary Steve Barclay want to sit down with Labour frontbenchers but its key Brexit policy on a customs union with Brussels was "wishful thinking".

"If it's Keir Starmer or Emily Thornberry or anybody else, the idea is - if this goes forward - it would be me and Steve Barclay who would be sitting down and meeting them," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

"Let's hope those conversations can take place."

Mr Lidington said a key part of any discussion would be "to understand exactly where the Labour frontbench is coming from".

He said: "I would be saying to Labour, 'What is it that you don't like about what is in the Political Declaration at the moment?', because what we have there is an idea of a customs arrangement with the European Union that still allows us to have an independent trade policy on top of that, but while getting access - tariff-free and quota-free - for our goods and agriculture to the European market.

"I would be asking what on earth they mean when they say they want to be in a customs union with the EU but also for Britain to have a say in EU trade policy with other countries. That's not something that's allowed under the European treaties.

"This seems to be wishful thinking."

Theresa May will use talks with European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker, Donald Tusk and other prominent EU figures to press for legally binding guarantees on Irish backstop.

The backstop, which is intended to prevent the return of a hard border on the island of Ireland, would see the UK continue to obey EU customs rules after a transition period if no wider trade deal had been reached.

Downing Street said that the PM will insist that the UK cannot be "trapped" in the backstop. She is "open to different ways" of achieving her objectives but they must be legally binding.

The PM will say parliament has sent "an unequivocal message that change is required" but MPs have made it clear they can support her deal if the backstop is addressed.


Jeremy Corbyn has written to Theresa May outlining the Labour party’s five Brexit demands, which he claims will bring the country together.

On a day where a war of words erupted between EU leaders and Tory politicians, undermining Ms May’s Brexit position, Mr Corbyn penned a letter to the prime minister calling for a number of changes to her approach.

The Labour leader said his priorities, which included being part of the customs union and protecting UK jobs, must be enshrined in the political declaration, setting out future relations with the EU, to win his party’s support.

Story here: 
There's a fair bit of coverage on Theresa May's attendance of the Black and White ball for Tory donors last night. She managed to squeeze the party into her packed schedule, after dashing back from meetings in Belfast yesterday.
Plenty of senior Conservatives were in attendance, including Iain Duncan Smith, Michael Gove, Matt Hancock and Commons Leader Andrea Leadsom. According to the Mirror, party chairman Brandon Lewis gave a speech, where he joked: “Whatever you bid at the auction it is less than you’ll pay in tax under Corbyn."

Here's the exact wording of Jeremy Corbyn's letter to the PM, setting out Labour's demands to support a Brexit deal.

It's significant because it shows Labour is *willing* to support the PM to get Brexit over the line - prompting fury from Labour remainers. They also seem to have dropped their six Brexit tests, which were regarded as nearly impossible for the PM to meet. 

His letter shows that Labour has dropped one of its key demands - that the PM secure exactly the same benefits as EU membership. This was obviously a very tall order.

But... Corbyn may be counting on the fact that it will be very difficult for Theresa May to accept this offer without enraging half of her own party.

Theresa May has arrived in Brussels for crunch Brexit talks with EU leaders. She was greeted by European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker as she arrived at the Berlaymont.
An anti-Brexit protester jumped in front of the car as she arrived.


Liam Fox has warned MPs risk making the "pitfalls" of a no-deal Brexit more likely by voting against the Government's Withdrawal Agreement.

The international trade secretary, asked about processing trade deals with minimal delays, told the Commons: "In terms of the continuity of agreements we already have, the best way to ensure full continuity is to have a deal.

"All those who talk about the pitfalls of no deal would do well to remember that in voting against a deal they make those pitfalls all the more likely."

Labour accused Dr Fox of "giving away the shop before negotiations start" after reports he is planning on scrapping all import tariffs post-Brexit.

The cabinet minister replied: "The government has made no decision on this, when we do so we will communicate it to stakeholders, the public and Parliament.

"Of course the best way to avoid this scenario is to have a deal with the European Union and whipping up fear about people's jobs is simply the humbug that has become the hallmark of Mr Esterson."

This comes off the back of a story in the Huffington Post, which revealed roaming charges could be brought overnight for Brits abroad in the event of a no-deal Brexit. 
Interesting... shadow Brexit minister Matthew Pennycook goes further than Jeremy Corbyn, by explicitly saying May must commit to these terms or Labour will move to support a public vote.

Andrea Leadsom confirms there will be a debate on Theresa May's Brexit deal on Thursday, February 14.

The PM will bring a 'revised deal' back to the House for a second meaningful vote 'as soon as she can'. If that's not possible by Feb 13, the government will table an amendable motion on Thursday.


Theresa May and her ministers are under fire for attending a lavish Conservative donor ball amid the on-going deadlock over Britain’s exit from the EU.

The prime minister, who today arrived in Brussels in attempt to renegotiate her Brexit deal, dashed backed from Northern Ireland on Thursday evening to join senior Tories at the party’s annual Black and White Ball fundraiser.

Cabinet ministers in attendance included the Brexit secretary Stephen Barclay, the environment secretary Michael Gove, the Commons leader Andrea Leadsom, and the health secretary Matt Hancock.

More here: 

Downing Street confirmed that Jeremy Corbyn's letter had been received, and a spokeswoman added: "We will reply in due course. Our positions on many of the issues in the letter are well known. Our position on the backstop has not changed."

The spokeswoman said that no further meeting between Mrs May and the Labour leader to discuss Brexit had been scheduled, but added that "her door is open".

NEW: A joint statement has dropped from Theresa May and Jean-Claude Juncker, the European Commission president.

Talks were "robust but constructive", which is politician-speak for pretty tough. Another key takeaway is they are planning to meet "at the end of February", which is dangerously close to exit day on March 29. Are we getting closer to a delay?

Read it in full below:

Prime Minister May and President Juncker have met today to review the next steps in the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.

The talks were held in a spirit of working together to achieve the UK’s orderly withdrawal from the EU, especially in the context of a shared determination to achieve a strong partnership for the future given the global challenges the EU and the UK face together in upholding open and fair trade, cooperation in the fight against climate change and terrorism and defending the rules-based international system.

The Prime Minister described the context in the UK Parliament, and the motivation behind last week’s vote in the House of Commons seeking a legally binding change to the terms of the backstop. She raised various options for dealing with these concerns in the context of the Withdrawal Agreement in line with her commitments to the Parliament.

President Juncker underlined that the EU27 will not reopen the Withdrawal Agreement, which represents a carefully balanced compromise between the European Union and the UK, in which both sides have made significant concessions to arrive at a deal. President Juncker however expressed his openness to add wording to the Political Declaration agreed by the EU27 and the UK in order to be more ambitious in terms of content and speed when it comes to the future relationship between the European Union and the UK. President Juncker drew attention to the fact that any solution would have to be agreed by the European Parliament and the EU27.

The discussion was robust but constructive. Despite the challenges, the two leaders agreed that their teams should hold talks as to 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. The Prime Minister and the President will meet again before the end of February to take stock of these discussions.

Our Europe correspondent Jon Stone has filed this quick take on May's meeting with Juncker.
Ex-shadow cabinet member Owen Smith says he's thinking about quitting the Labour party over its Brexit stance. Luciana Berger, another Labour MP, has also suggested she might do so.
Both are critics of Jeremy Corbyn - Smith was sacked as shadow Northern Ireland secretary for supporting a final say, while Berger has been outspoken about antisemitism within the party.
However it's one to watch, as it's very unusual for MPs to openly admit they might quit. Westminster is watching to see if this latest Brexit shift is enough to tip some MPs over the edge.

The young will “neither forget nor forgive” the politicians responsible for Brexit if they end up being its biggest victims, Sir John Major has warned.

The former Conservative prime minister issued a chilling warning to his own party that it will be punished by a generation that “fear for their future” as the UK leaves the EU.

Full story here:

Shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer has waded into the growing row over Labour's Brexit policy, after Jeremy Corbyn wrote to the PM overnight to lay out the terms his party would require to support her deal.
Crucially, it doesn't make any mention of a second referendum. This has enraged pro-EU Labour MPs, who believed that the party was inching towards officially support a fresh vote. After all, Labour's conference voted in September to keep all options on the table, including a people's vote.
Starmer's deputy Matthew Pennycook has already set hares running by tweeting Labour will support a people's vote if May fails to agree with these terms (see earlier). 
Now Starmer has also set out that a public vote is still on the table, setting the scene for another Labour Brexit row. It appears that red water is opening up between Team Corbyn and Team Starmer.
'The House of Commons should be sitting into the middle of the night – so why are MPs knocking off at 3pm', asks our sketchwriter Tom Peck.
He says: 'Like torturously bored shop assistants, MPs are trying to ‘look busy’ but failing spectacularly'.



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