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Brexit deal on ‘backstop’ possible before March 12

Brussels - The European Union could reach a deal with Britain on the "backstop" dispute over the Irish border before March 12, Prime Minister Theresa May's deadline for British lawmakers to vote on a deal, EU diplomats has told dpa.

Series of key votes

The parliament is expected to hold a series of key votes on March 12, 13 and 14. First, they will take up again the unpopular withdrawal agreement - reached by Britain and the EU, but rejected by British lawmakers in January - that includes the backstop provision.

May has sought to renegotiate the text, but Brussels strongly opposes re-opening the deal or setting a deadline to the backstop.

If the withdrawal agreement fails again on March 12, parliament will vote on whether to take the prospect of a chaotic "no-deal" exit from the EU off the table, and whether Britain should ask for an extension of the Brexit deadline past March 29.

"An extension is now almost inevitable"

May, who previously opposed an extension, has now warmed to the idea, on the condition it would run to June at the latest.

EU diplomats have said that such an extension is now almost inevitable. If both sides agree, it would be taken up at the next summit of EU leaders on March 21 and 22.

One compromise that has been floated is a codicil, or legal addendum, to the withdrawal agreement, stating that the backstop should not be used unless absolutely necessary, and then only as briefly as possible, an EU diplomat said.

Such a provision would be a more legally binding version of assurances that EU officials sent to May in January.