British PM's top lawyer in Brussels for last-ditch Brexit bid

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They want to examine any agreement Attorney General Geoffrey Cox reaches with Brussels over the Northern Ireland backstop - to ensure it is temporary.

Downing Street said there had been a "robust exchange of views" as Mr Cox tried to persuade the European Union side to accept that legally-binding changes were needed if the deal was to win the support of the House of Commons.

Theresa May's Brexit negotiations appear to have hit deadlock - less than a week before she stages a Commons showdown on her withdrawal plans.

The EU sees the backstop as an insurance policy to keep open the border between EU member Ireland and British Northern Ireland - and to preserve the island's peace process.

As Britain lurches toward an EU exit due in just over three weeks, EU Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas said that "while the talks take place in a constructive atmosphere, discussions have been hard".

Mrs May's official spokesman told reporters at Westminster: "My understanding is that the talks were hard and there was a robust exchange of views".

He promised negotiations would resume soon, while May's spokesman said technical talks were ongoing.

"This funding is there regardless of the outcome, but obviously we want to see a deal happening, we believe that is what is in the best interests of our country", he said, adding that it "leaving no part of our United Kingdom behind" was what May really believed in.

Last Friday Barnier said he was aware of "misgivings in Britain that the backstop could keep Britain forever connected to the European Union", but he was "ready to give further guarantees, assurances and clarifications that the backstop should only be temporary", which would be created to assuage some of the key worries from the government's more Eurosceptic MPs.

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He said: "It is OK, a hard game for different reasons and a wild opponent". "We played our part by trying to stop that happening". Centre-back Kurt Zouma is available again having sat out the 3-0 win at Cardiff on Tuesday as he served a one-match suspension.

"While we have taken this decision for business reasons, the continued uncertainty around the UK's future relationship with the European Union is not helping companies like ours to plan for the future", Nissan Europe Chairman Gianluca de Ficchy said.

"Voters will not be fooled - especially those in areas which voted Leave and are now demanding a People's Vote because they know, whichever way you do it, Brexit will harm their futures".

Sir Graham, who said the government's handling of the Brexit talks had been "lions led by donkeys", added there was nevertheless a growing desire in the Commons to get behind a deal.

Earlier disfavourable advice by Cox was viewed as a contributing factor in the defeat of May's deal by MPs in January.

He told a parliamentary committee: "The Chief Whip has reminded Conservative MPs that there may not be an Easter recess".

"I think that they are beginning to realise that we can get a majority in parliament because they are seeing the signals coming from the people who voted against the deal before who are saying, crucially, that they are prepared to be reasonable about how we get to that position that we can't legally be trapped in the backstop".

"When it comes to workers' rights, this parliament has set world-leading standards and will continue to do so in the future, taking its own decisions, working closely with trade unions and businesses". Parliament could also vote to extend the exit deadline so they have more time to work things out.

Other senior Tories say that while May still faces an uphill struggle to win over numerous most hardline Tory opponents of her deal - and the 10 Ulster Unionists - many others who helped inflict the 230-vote defeat in January are now looking for ways to back down and support it.

The Labour Party's Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell said: "This towns fund smacks of desperation from a government reduced to bribing MPs to vote for their damaging flagship Brexit legislation".

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