UK's May hits narrowing road for help rescuing Brexit deal

UK's May hits narrowing road for help rescuing Brexit deal
British Prime Minister Theresa May, left, is greeted by European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker at EU headquarters in Brussels, Tuesday, Dec. 11 2018. Top European Union officials on Tuesday ruled out any renegotiation of the divorce agreement with Britain, as Prime Minister Theresa May fought to save her Brexit deal by lobbying leaders in Europe's capitals. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco) (Source: Francisco Seco)

BRUSSELS (AP) — Prime Minister Theresa May said she found "a shared determination" among some European leaders Tuesday to persuade the British Parliament to accept a proposed Brexit deal, but her continental counterparts insisted any room for revisions was small.

So many British lawmakers oppose the deal on the terms of Britain's breakup and future relationship with the European Union that May postponed a planned vote in the House of Commons instead of seeing it rejected.

While EU officials ruled out renegotiating the divorce agreement, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker gave May a crumb to take back to lawmakers: "room enough" might exist for "clarifications and further interpretations" to be made at a leaders' summit Thursday, he said.

The kind of significant legal changes that would boost May's position seemed out of the question, though.

"Clear that EU27 wants to help. The question is how," tweeted EU Council President Donald Tusk, referring to the 27-member countries that will remain in the EU after Britain leaves.

British Prime Minister Theresa May, left, walks with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker prior to a meeting at EU headquarters in Brussels, Tuesday, Dec. 11 2018. Top European Union officials on Tuesday ruled out any renegotiation of the divorce agreement with Britain, as Prime Minister Theresa May fought to save her Brexit deal by lobbying leaders in Europe's capitals. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)
British Prime Minister Theresa May, left, walks with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker prior to a meeting at EU headquarters in Brussels, Tuesday, Dec. 11 2018. Top European Union officials on Tuesday ruled out any renegotiation of the divorce agreement with Britain, as Prime Minister Theresa May fought to save her Brexit deal by lobbying leaders in Europe's capitals. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco) (Source: Francisco Seco)

May fought to save the deal by lobbying several fellow national leaders, racing from London to The Hague, Berlin and Brussels in search of any support that would push the Brexit agreement through at home.

On Wednesday, May plans to visit Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar in Dublin amid her worsening political woes at home. Some pro-Brexit members of May's' Conservatives said Tuesday that opponents had collected the 48 letters from party lawmakers needed to trigger a no-confidence vote in their leader.

British Prime Minister Theresa May, center, leaves after a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, right, in the chancellery in Berlin, Germany, Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2018. May is visiting several European countries to seek "assurances" on the Brexit agreement with the European Union to aid its passage through Britain's parliament. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)
British Prime Minister Theresa May, center, leaves after a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, right, in the chancellery in Berlin, Germany, Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2018. May is visiting several European countries to seek "assurances" on the Brexit agreement with the European Union to aid its passage through Britain's parliament. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn) (Source: Michael Sohn)

A claim of reaching the threshold turned out to be premature before, but anger over May's handling of Brexit has been growing within her party.

Asked if she had been informed the 48-letter requirement was met, the prime minister said: "No, I have been here in Europe dealing with the issue I have promised Parliament I would be dealing with."

British Prime Minister Theresa May is greeted by Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte upon her arrival in The Hague, Netherlands, Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2018. Facing almost certain defeat, Prime Minister May on Monday postponed a vote in Parliament on her Brexit deal, saying she would go back to European Union leaders to seek changes to the divorce agreement. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)
British Prime Minister Theresa May is greeted by Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte upon her arrival in The Hague, Netherlands, Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2018. Facing almost certain defeat, Prime Minister May on Monday postponed a vote in Parliament on her Brexit deal, saying she would go back to European Union leaders to seek changes to the divorce agreement. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong) (Source: Peter Dejong)

If May survives a vote of no-confidence by Conservative colleagues, she can't be challenged again for a year. If she loses the vote, she will be replaced.

Despite the odds mounting against her, May remained defiant.

British Prime Minister Theresa May, left, and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte pose for photographers at the start of a meeting in The Hague, Netherlands, Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2018. Facing almost certain defeat, Prime Minister May on Monday postponed a vote in Parliament on her Brexit deal, saying she would go back to European Union leaders to seek changes to the divorce agreement. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong, Pool)
British Prime Minister Theresa May, left, and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte pose for photographers at the start of a meeting in The Hague, Netherlands, Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2018. Facing almost certain defeat, Prime Minister May on Monday postponed a vote in Parliament on her Brexit deal, saying she would go back to European Union leaders to seek changes to the divorce agreement. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong, Pool) (Source: Peter Dejong)

"We are just at the start of the negotiations and the start of the discussions," she said after meeting with the EU Council's Tusk.

Parliament has until Jan. 21 to vote on the deal, a little more than two months before Britain's March 29 departure date.

British Prime Minister Theresa May is greeted by Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte upon her arrival in The Hague, Netherlands, Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2018. Facing almost certain defeat, Prime Minister May on Monday postponed a vote in Parliament on her Brexit deal, saying she would go back to European Union leaders to seek changes to the divorce agreement. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)
British Prime Minister Theresa May is greeted by Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte upon her arrival in The Hague, Netherlands, Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2018. Facing almost certain defeat, Prime Minister May on Monday postponed a vote in Parliament on her Brexit deal, saying she would go back to European Union leaders to seek changes to the divorce agreement. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong) (Source: Peter Dejong)

EU leaders have said the highly technical and legally binding agreement of almost 600 pages isn't open for discussion.

"There is no room whatsoever for renegotiation," Juncker told EU lawmakers in Strasbourg, France, as he briefed them on Thursday's summit.

Leave the European Union, Brexit supporters protest across the street from the House of Parliament in London, Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2018. Top European Union officials are ruling out any renegotiation of the divorce agreement with Britain as Prime Minister Theresa May fights to save her Brexit deal by lobbying leaders in Europe's capitals. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)
Leave the European Union, Brexit supporters protest across the street from the House of Parliament in London, Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2018. Top European Union officials are ruling out any renegotiation of the divorce agreement with Britain as Prime Minister Theresa May fights to save her Brexit deal by lobbying leaders in Europe's capitals. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham) (Source: Matt Dunham)

The main sticking point since divorce negotiations began almost two years ago is how to keep goods flowing seamlessly between EU member Ireland and the U.K's Northern Ireland post-Brexit. Customs posts were attack targets during Northern Ireland's sectarian conflict —

Determined to avoid a "hard border" with such checks, the EU and Ireland demanded that a "backstop" guarantee in the agreement. The provision, essentially an insurance policy, would keep Britain under EU customs rules until both sides agree on a better solution, but only into force if no compromise is found by 2020. The deadline could be extended.

The lit up words "Peoples Vote", which calls for another referendum on Britain's European Union membership, are photographed by a remain, anti-Brexit supporter wearing a European flag design beret across the street from the Houses of Parliament in London, Monday, Dec. 10, 2018. British Prime Minister Theresa May has postponed Parliament's vote on her European Union divorce deal to avoid a shattering defeat — a decision that throws her Brexit plans into chaos. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)
The lit up words "Peoples Vote", which calls for another referendum on Britain's European Union membership, are photographed by a remain, anti-Brexit supporter wearing a European flag design beret across the street from the Houses of Parliament in London, Monday, Dec. 10, 2018. British Prime Minister Theresa May has postponed Parliament's vote on her European Union divorce deal to avoid a shattering defeat — a decision that throws her Brexit plans into chaos. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham) (Source: Matt Dunham)

Opponents say the backstop would bind Britain to the EU in an acceptable way and unable to leave the customs union unilaterally. EU leaders insist the mechanism can't be removed from deal, but May is sure to seek flexibility on this point from her European partners.

"We have a common determination to do everything to be not in the situation one day to use that backstop, but we have to prepare," Juncker said.

German Minister of State for European Affairs Michael Roth, center, speaks with members of the delegation during a General Affairs Council meeting at the Europa building in Brussels, Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2018. Top European Union officials ruled out Tuesday any renegotiation of the divorce agreement with Britain as Prime Minister Theresa May launched her fight to save her Brexit deal by lobbying leaders in Europe's capitals. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)
German Minister of State for European Affairs Michael Roth, center, speaks with members of the delegation during a General Affairs Council meeting at the Europa building in Brussels, Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2018. Top European Union officials ruled out Tuesday any renegotiation of the divorce agreement with Britain as Prime Minister Theresa May launched her fight to save her Brexit deal by lobbying leaders in Europe's capitals. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo) (Source: Virginia Mayo)

If British lawmakers approve the agreement, it must still be endorsed by European Parliament members before March 29.

___

Britain's Ambassador to the EU Sir Tim Barrow, center, waits for the start of a meeting of EU Europe Affairs ministers at the Europa building in Brussels, Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2018. Top European Union officials ruled out Tuesday any renegotiation of the divorce agreement with Britain as Prime Minister Theresa May launched her fight to save her Brexit deal by lobbying leaders in Europe's capitals. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)
Britain's Ambassador to the EU Sir Tim Barrow, center, waits for the start of a meeting of EU Europe Affairs ministers at the Europa building in Brussels, Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2018. Top European Union officials ruled out Tuesday any renegotiation of the divorce agreement with Britain as Prime Minister Theresa May launched her fight to save her Brexit deal by lobbying leaders in Europe's capitals. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo) (Source: Virginia Mayo)

Mike Corder contributed from The Hague. Geir Moulson in Berlin and Jill Lawless in London contributed.

Danish Foreign Minister Anders Samuelsen, center, arrives for a General Affairs Council meeting at the Europa building in Brussels, Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2018. Top European Union officials ruled out Tuesday any renegotiation of the divorce agreement with Britain as Prime Minister Theresa May launched her fight to save her Brexit deal by lobbying leaders in Europe's capitals. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)
Danish Foreign Minister Anders Samuelsen, center, arrives for a General Affairs Council meeting at the Europa building in Brussels, Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2018. Top European Union officials ruled out Tuesday any renegotiation of the divorce agreement with Britain as Prime Minister Theresa May launched her fight to save her Brexit deal by lobbying leaders in Europe's capitals. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo) (Source: Virginia Mayo)
The Union flag and EU flag are adjusted prior to the arrival of the British Prime Minister Theresa May at EU headquarters in Brussels, Tuesday, Dec. 11 2018. Top European Union officials on Tuesday ruled out any renegotiation of the divorce agreement with Britain, as Prime Minister Theresa May fought to save her Brexit deal by lobbying leaders in Europe's capitals. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)
The Union flag and EU flag are adjusted prior to the arrival of the British Prime Minister Theresa May at EU headquarters in Brussels, Tuesday, Dec. 11 2018. Top European Union officials on Tuesday ruled out any renegotiation of the divorce agreement with Britain, as Prime Minister Theresa May fought to save her Brexit deal by lobbying leaders in Europe's capitals. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco) (Source: Francisco Seco)