Brussels: One of the European Union's most senior officials warned that a no deal Brexit looks ever more likely on Monday, after an "inconclusive" meeting with British MPs.
Members of the House of Commons Brexit steering committee came to Brussels to meet Martin Selmayr, EU president Jean-Claude Juncker's powerful right-hand man.
The talks had been meant to explore ways to secure an orderly divorce after the British parliament rejected the deal negotiated by Prime Minister Theresa May. Instead, Selmayr was left more pessimistic than before.
"The meeting confirmed that the EU did well to start its no deal preparations in December 2017," Selmayr tweeted after the British delegation left the talks. Some British officials have suggested May might be able to get a deal through parliament if the EU make "legally binding" changes to the withdrawal agreement.
In particular, London wants to see a promise that Northern Ireland can stay in the EU customs union indefinitely, known as the backstop, changed or taken out entirely.
But Selmayr reiterated the EU's firm opposition to this idea, and cast doubt on whether a deal would pass the Commons even if May asks for and receives concessions.
"On the EU side, nobody is considering this," he said.
"Asked whether any assurance would help to get the Withdrawal Agreement through the Commons, the answers of MPs were...inconclusive," he tweeted.
Earlier, the chairman of the Commmons Brexit committee, Hilary Benn had described the meeting as "useful", but confirmed there was no breakthrough. Benn, a member of the opposition Labour Party, said he had suggested Brexit be delayed so that a full future relationship can be negotiated before Britain leaves.
The suggestion, made "personally" and not on behalf of the committee, was received "courteously", he said, but Brussels is waiting for May to say what she wants.
The committee's Conservative vice chair, John Whittingdale, told reporters that he had given Selmayr a suggestion that the backstop be removed from the deal.
"He asked us whether or not a letter which would be legally binding might be sufficient, but I think we would need to see what that contained to have an absolute assurance that it does give us an exit," Whittingdale said.
"Now if that can't be obtained then I think it will be difficult to get a majority in the House of Commons -- particularly after the last vote," he warned.