British Prime Minister Theresa May started a series of last-ditch meetings in Brussels on Thursday to push for concessions in her effort to divorce Britain from the European Union, but the bloc’s leaders appeared to have little interest in offering significant changes to a deal that has proved politically dead in London.
The meetings came a day after European Council President Donald Tusk ignited a blaze of anger in Britain by saying that there is “a special place in hell” for British leaders who advocated the divorce, known as Brexit, without having a plan to pull it off.
Tusk mixed some spice into his comments, but he was articulating widely held frustration across the European Union that British lawmakers appear unable to settle on any single plan that meets their own red lines.
E.U. leaders have repeatedly asked May to propose a concrete plan that would usher Britain out of the European Union without imposing a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland, which could risk inflaming the dormant conflict there.
The plan that E.U. and British negotiators dreamed up together to keep the border open — an insurance policy, known as the backstop, that could risk leaving Britain trapped half-inside, half-outside the European Union — has been toxic in Britain. May and other Brexiteer allies have demanded a way to avoid getting stuck permanently halfway out the door, but E.U. policymakers say they cannot countenance anything that would jeopardize the Irish border.
One element that might change the dynamic in Thursday’s meetings was a letter from British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, who offered opposition support to the divorce deal if May can guarantee a close, long-term relationship with the European Union. His demands would likely be acceptable to E.U. leaders, raising the prospect that May could deliver a deal if she worked with Labour leaders over the objections of her own hard-line Conservative Party backbenchers.
“We believe that a close economic relationship along these lines would make it far less likely that any backstop arrangements would ever be needed,” Corbyn wrote in his letter.