Talks between British and EU officials to break the Brexit deadlock will ‘almost certainly’ last into the weekend, Britain’s attorney general said on Thursday, ahead of a crucial parliamentary vote in London next week.
With just three weeks to go until the scheduled departure date of March 29, concern is growing about the possibility of Britain crashing out of the bloc after 46 years of membership with no deal in place.
Ahead of Tuesday’s vote, Prime Minister Theresa May’s government is seeking legally-binding changes to the agreement it struck with the EU in November but which was resoundingly rejected by parliament in January.
‘These discussions are running, they’re going to be resuming very shortly, they’re going to be continuing almost certainly throughout the weekend,’ Attorney General Geoffrey Cox, who is leading the talks, told British MPs.
Talks have focused on the current deal’s so-called ‘backstop’ solution, designed to keep the Irish border open but which critics say could indefinitely lock Britain into a customs union with the EU.
However, there were few signs of concrete progress, with little time left before next week’s votes.
 Progress still possible
On a visit to Britain, France’s Europe Minister Nathalie Loiseau said the EU was ‘still waiting’ for a proposal from London.
But she later insisted on BBC radio that the EU ‘cannot reopen’ the withdrawal agreement.
‘The solution is on the table. The withdrawal agreement is the best possible solution.’
Cox rejected criticism that Britain had not presented viable plans to the EU, telling MPs the proposals were ‘detailed, coherent, careful’ and ‘as clear as day’.
European Commission secretary general Martin Selmayr said progress was still possible, despite the failure of talks in Brussels so far.
‘These things often happen at the very last minute,’ he told a Brookings Institution event in Washington.
‘We have to wait for the next couple of days and weeks. We have to be very patient.’
Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas told reporters that Commission president jean-Claude Juncker ‘is available 24/7’.
‘All remains to be confirmed if and when, when and if, we have something to be presented,’ he said.
If May loses Tuesday’s vote, MPs will then vote on Wednesday on whether to proceed and leave the EU on March 29 without a deal.
If MPs reject that outcome, they would then vote on Thursday on whether to ask the EU for a postponement.
The request for a delay would have to be accepted unanimously by all member states and Britain would have to leave the EU on March 29 if it is rejected.
‘Vague situation’
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said that Brexit talks could not drag on for weeks.
‘Time is running out,’ he said in the northwestern port city of Brest.
‘If, perchance, there was a request for new talks, we should say on what, because we cannot have a discussion that goes on for weeks,’ he said.
‘We are still in a very vague situation.’
Leading European parliamentarian Manfred Weber, head of the conservative European People’s Party, echoed the lack of desire for further talks without an end goal in sight.
He said there should be no postponement of Brexit as it would disrupt elections to the parliament.
‘I have no appetite for discussing any kind of prolongation of the process of Brexit because our problem is not time,’ he said at an EPP meeting in Warsaw.
‘Our problem is the real and clear understanding from our British friends of what they want to have as an alternative’ to EU membership.
Weber said it was ‘unthinkable’ that Britain should take part in the May 26 European Parliament elections.