UK PM May to hold Brexit talks with EU’s Juncker; urges party unity

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FILE PHOTO: European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker shakes hands with British Prime Minister Theresa May at the European Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium February 7, 2019. REUTERS/Yves Herman

LONDON (Reuters) – Prime Minister Theresa May is to hold Brexit talks with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker next week, her office said on Saturday, following this week’s symbolic defeat in parliament which was widely interpreted as undermining her negotiating strength with the EU.

Her office did not give a date for the talks but said May planned to speak to the leader of every EU member state over the coming days.

On Monday, Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay will meet EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier, it added in a statement.

On Tuesday, Attorney General Geoffrey Cox, will make a speech setting out what changes would be required to eliminate the legal risk that Britain could be trapped in a Northern Irish backstop indefinitely.

May’s defeat in last Thursday’s symbolic vote undermined her pledge to EU leaders that she could pass her deal with concessions primarily around the Irish backstop – a guarantee that there can be no return of border controls between the British province of Northern Ireland and EU-member Ireland.

The issue has become one of the main points of contention ahead of Britain’s planned departure from the EU next month after 45 years.

May’s office said she had written to her divided Conservative MPs urging them to overcome their differences over leaving the EU in the national interest.

“Our party can do what it has done so often in the past: move beyond what divides us and come together behind what unites us; sacrifice if necessary our own personal preferences in the higher service of the national interest …,” she wrote.

Reporting by Stephen Addison; Editing by Marguerita Choy

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