March 7 (UPI) -- Negotiators for the European Union have given Britain until Friday to come up with a workable plan for the Irish "backstop" if they want to proceed with Brexit talks.
Talks have been at an impasse for weeks over the backstop issue. British lawmakers in January balked at Prime Minister Theresa May's original Brexit deal over fears it would lead to trade difficulties at the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland. May has unsuccessfully returned to Belgium in recent weeks to try and persuade the EU to broker an agreement more acceptable to lawmakers in London.
Recent talks in Brussels have not yet produced meaningful change.
An EU spokesperson said Wednesday talks have been "difficult" and no solution is in sight. French European minister Natalie Loiseau said the EU is still waiting for a new proposal from London. EU negotiators want Britain to table the backstop issue or submit acceptable changes if they want to move forward with the process.
British Chancellor Philip Hammond urged lawmakers Thursday to vote for May's proposed deal when it comes up for vote next week, or the EU departure, scheduled for March 29, will probably be delayed.
EU officials said they will work non-stop through this weekend if lawmakers submit "acceptable" ideas for the backstop -- something British lawmakers say they've already done, without success.
Parliament will hold a second vote on May's proposed deal on Tuesday. If lawmakers reject it again as they did in January, they must then choose between departing the EU without a deal or postponing the exit altogether.
"If the prime minister's deal does not get approved on Tuesday then it is likely that the House of Commons will vote ... to not leave the European Union without a deal," Hammond told BBC News. "Where we go thereafter is highly uncertain."
May's proposal allows for 21 months to work out a trade deal for the backstop to avoid a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland, something neither the prime minister nor British lawmakers want. If the deal Tuesday is the same one from January, experts say it will be rejected again.
"We currently don't expect the deal to go through when voted on next week, though it might be a closer outcome than in January," John Wraith, head of rates strategy and economics at UBS, told CNBC. "Some pro-Brexit MPs may decide to vote for the deal, but the same prospect of a delay that is leading them to soften their position will be seen as a positive development by some pro-remain members."
Hammond expects Parliament to postpone Britain's departure until a deal is done.
"For those people who are passionate about ensuring that we leave the European Union on time, it surely must be something that they need to think very, very carefully about now," he said. "Because they run risk of us moving away from their preferred course of action if we don't get this deal through."