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BREXIT TURMOIL

May tours Europe in frantic bid to save Brexit

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Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte with British Prime Minister Theresa May in The Hague on Tuesday.

London

EMBATTLED British Prime Minister Theresa May launched a tour of European capitals on Tuesday in a desperate bid to salvage her Brexit deal, a day after delaying a parliamentary vote on the text to avoid a crushing defeat.

She held talks in The Hague with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, then headed to Berlin to meet Chancellor Angela Merkel in her struggle to unite British lawmakers behind her faltering plan.

She was then to see EU President Donald Tusk and European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker in Brussels.

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Mr Juncker told the European Parliament in Strasbourg on Tuesday, dubbing Brexit a "surprise guest" at this week's summit: "I'm surprised because we had reached an agreement on Nov 25 at the last EU summit. The deal we had achieved is the best deal possible, it's the only deal possible. There is no room whatsoever for renegotiation, but of course there is room, if used intelligently, to give further clarification and further interpretations."

Mr Tusk said the other 27 EU leaders will discuss Brexit at a special meeting on Thursday, at the start of a pre-planned summit in Brussels, which Mrs May will attend.

Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney told national broadcaster RTE that Dublin ruled out changes to the wording of the withdrawal agreement but said there could be "a political declaration coming from a European Council".

"The Irish government doesn't have an issue with providing reassurance if that's helpful," he said.

The embattled Mrs May is facing a rebellion in her own party and from parliamentary allies over a clause in the deal relating to Northern Ireland, which is threatening to sink both the agreement and her leadership.

"I will now do everything I possibly can to secure further assurances," she told mutinous MPs on Monday on her dash to Europe ahead of the EU summit. If no deal is secured, Britain will still have to leave the EU on March 29; the government has warned that a no-deal Brexit will be hugely damaging to the economy.

Anand Menon, European politics professor at King's College, London, said Mrs May needs Brussels to make it "absolutely clear" no major concessions are on offer - no matter who is prime minister. "What they might do is add some language to the political declaration, not the withdrawal agreement," he added. "I imagine they'll add some language saying that both sides remain convinced that we'll never need to use the backstop."

MPs had been due to vote on Tuesday on the deal with Brussels, which covers the terms of Britain's withdrawal from the European Union after 46 years.

But facing a huge rebellion of her own Tory MPs, primarily over the backstop clause designed to keep open Britain's border with Ireland, Mrs May conceded she expected to lose and delayed it.

The decision sent the pound plunging and both sides said they would step up preparations for a no-deal Brexit.

Leader of the House and Tory MP Andrea Leadsom defended Mrs May on Tuesday, saying she was aiming to secure "legally-binding reassurances" that Britain would not be indefinitely stuck in a backstop customs arrangement. AFP