Sunday, February 23, 2020 | ePaper

May tries to save Brexit plan ahead of EU summit

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British Prime Minister Theresa May will write to EU President Donald Tusk with a plan for delaying Brexit beyond March 29, her spokesman said, admitting the parliamentary deadlock had reached crisis levels.



British Prime Minister Theresa May will write to EU President Donald Tusk with a plan for delaying Brexit beyond March 29, her spokesman said Tuesday, admitting the parliamentary deadlock had reached crisis levels.
The letter will be sent before May heads to a Brussels summit on Thursday, where she has already promised to seek what could be a lengthy postponement of Britain's exit from the European Union.
May had hoped to persuade MPs before then to back the divorce agreement she has struck with the EU, but her plan to hold a fresh vote was dramatically blocked by the speaker of the House of Commons.
Exasperated European leaders are now demanding London tell them clearly what it wants, warning that the risk still remains that Britain could crash out of the bloc in 10 days, ending its 46-year membership without formal arrangements.
Michel Barnier, the European Union's chief negotiator, warned on Tuesday that any extension of the Brexit talks would have "political and economic costs" for the remaining 27 EU states. "A long extension… should be linked to something new, a new element or new political process," Barnier told reporters, urging May to secure the backing of the British parliament for any request.
"How can we ensure that, at the end of a possible extension, we are not back in the same situation as today?" he asked.
May's letter to Tusk would come by Wednesday, her spokesman said, as reports spoke of her seeking a 12-month delay.
However, Britain's ambassador in Prague Nick Archer said Tuesday that London was also wary of a lengthy extension with European Parliament elections due to be held across the bloc in May.
"The government does not want to have to go into European elections again, does not want to go anywhere near the multi-annual financial framework," he told the CTK Czech press agency, referring to difficult and lengthy EU budget negotiations.
The British premier is struggling to keep control of the Brexit process
after MPs last week decisively rejected her divorce deal for a second time.
She has reluctantly accepted that Brexit must be postponed, amid fears of an economic shock if Britain ends its membership of the EU with no new arrangements in place.
But she said that if MPs backed her deal this week, it might only be a short delay to ratify the text. This plan was scuppered on Monday when Speaker John Bercow delivered a surprise ruling that she could not keep bringing her deal back to MPs without changes.
Pro-Brexit newspapers condemned Bercow as the "Brexit Destroyer".
But May had been by no means certain of getting her deal through parliament this week, as many Brexit-supporting MPs believe it keeps Britain too closely aligned to the EU.
Talks continue with the aim of persuading MPs in her Conservative party and their Northern Irish allies, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), to back the text.
There is speculation too that any EU deal she strikes on delaying Brexit might be enough of a change to persuade Bercow to allow another vote on it next week.
In Berlin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said: "I will fight to the last hour of the deadline on March 29 for an orderly exit.
"We don't have a lot of time for it, but still have a few days."
But an aide to French President Emmanuel Macron warned: "An extension is not for certain or automatic."
The speaker's ruling added further drama and complexity to an already
chaotic Brexit process that has exposed deep rifts in parliament.
MPs still cannot agree how to implement the 2016 referendum, reflecting how voters remain divided almost three years after they voted 52 to 48 percent for Brexit.
May continues to insist that her agreement, covering citizens' rights, Britain's financial settlement, plans for the Irish border and for a post-Brexit transition period, is a good compromise.
She sought and obtained clarifications on the operation of the so-called Irish border "backstop" to appease some of her MPs but some still want more.
Several Conservative MPs suggested that following Bercow's ruling, May must now return to the negotiating table, even at this late stage.
However, Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay warned: "It is the only deal on the table from the EU - the EU have been consistent on that.
"Either we back the prime minister's deal and get Brexit over the line or we risk either a softer Brexit or no Brexit at all."
Brexit: 'No optimism' for summit breakthrough, says Donald Tusk
Donald Tusk has poured cold water on hopes of a Brexit breakthrough at Wednesday's EU summit, saying the Irish border was still a sticking point.
The European Council president said he had "no grounds for optimism" it would be solved at the summit.
And he called on Theresa May to come up with "concrete proposals" to break the "impasse".
The prime minister told her cabinet a deal was within reach if the government "stand together and stand firm".
Asked if she would be coming forward with "concrete proposals" at the summit, Mrs May's official spokesman said: "The prime minister set out her position yesterday (Monday). She looks forward to a face-to-face discussion with him tomorrow.
"There are many areas where we have made progress. More progress is needed on the backstop."
The "backstop" is a fall back plan for avoiding a hard border in Ireland if the two sides can't strike a trade deal in time - but they can't agree on how long it should last and what form it should take.
No new proposals are expected to be tabled or discussed this week and discussions are likely to continue at official level only.
Mrs May had already put forward a "workable solution", Downing Street said.
Speaking at a press conference in Brussels, Mr Tusk said: "As I see it, the only source of hope for a deal for now is the goodwill and determination on both sides.
"However, for a breakthrough to take place besides goodwill we need new facts.
"Tomorrow (Wednesday), I am going to ask Prime Minister May whether she has concrete proposals on how to break the impasse."

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