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Brexit: High drama in Brussels and London


Rayhan Ahmed Topader:


The EU’s plan to offer the UK an extension until 31 January 2020 is expected to be put on hold after Boris Johnson threatened to pull the Brexit deal if Jeremy Corbyn rejects a general election. Sources said the dramatic developments in Westminster needed to be fully understood and the choreography in Brussels could change. Donald Tusk, the European council chairman, was expected to announce, following a meeting with ambassadors, that the EU27 accepted the delay requested in a letter reluctantly sent by Johnson. But senior EU sources said the developments in London had left the situation in flux. Boris Johnson’s election demand: MPs should call his bluff. Suggestions that the Labour leader could reject Johnson’s demand for a general election on 12 December provoking the prime minister to pull his deal set alarm bells ringing. Sources said the French government wanted to see the outcome of the vote on a general election before making a decision, but that the other 26 member states were ready to grant the three-month extension. The final offer could differ from the extension requested in the Benn act by specifying that the UK could leave on 15 November if the deal was ratified in the UK and European parliament. Before Johnson’s ultimatum to the Labour leader, the EU looked set to offer a three-month extension, which could be cut short at the point at which the Brexit deal was ratified. It remains the most likely outcome.

We don’t want to be dragged into British politics and this is what was requested,” said one senior EU diplomat. They can leave earlier if they ratify the deal. To echo your prime minister, we just want Brexit done.” But France’s EU minister, Amélie de Montchalin, told RTL radio that clarity over the next steps in London were needed for decisions to be made in “the next hours and days”. She said: “Our position is that simply giving more time without political change, without ratification, without an election would be useless. The French position is to give more time if it is justified, if we understand why more time is needed. That could be more time to ratify, because there’s a deal on the table. Or it could be because they say want to hold elections. Then we’ll look at that. But it’s one thing to say we’d like to maybe have elections and another thing to say elections have been organised. Simply giving more time alone leads to getting stuck in a rut. If there’s a clear scenario that will change things, for example a ratification or elections  not just suggested but organised then we can take decisions. But we ask Britain for facts-we’re not in fictional politics, we need facts to make decisions. Decisions will be taken in the next hours and days in terms of what the UK parliament says and what has really been actioned in the UK. Donald Tusk has made a thinly veiled call for the UK to stay in the EU, suggesting the prime minister’s historic loss in parliament left a deal looking impossible.

As the scale of the defeat was announced, the president of the European council called for Theresa May to urgently clarify her next move. Brussels had expected the prime minister to lose the vote on the deal she had agreed with the EU, but the size of the majority against 230 votes  meant there was little hope of the agreement being salvaged. Jeremy Corbyn tables vote of no confidence after May suffers historic defeat. If a deal is impossible, and no one wants no deal, then who will finally have the courage to say what the only positive solution is?” May was expected to return to Brussels within days of the vote to consult with Tusk and the European commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, but it is unclear now what those discussions would involve. Juncker, in a defence of Brussels’ role in the negotiations, said the EU and its chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, had shown creativity and flexibility throughout” and that, in recent days, it had “demonstrated goodwill again by offering additional clarifications and reassurances”.The risk of a disorderly withdrawal of the United Kingdom has increased with this evening’s vote,” Juncker said. “While we do not want this to happen, the European commission will continue its contingency work to help ensure the EU is fully prepared.” In France, the president, Emmanuel Macron said the UK now had three options: a no-deal, which would be “scary for everybody”; seek to get an improved deal from the EU to which he said maybe we’ll make improve ments on one or two things.

But I don’t really think so; and finally an extension in order to “take more time to renegotiate something”, an option that he said creates a great deal of uncertainty and worries”. Michael Roth, Germany’s EU affairs minister, tweeted in response to the vote: “Disaster. Too bad. But EU’s door remains open”.The Spanish government said it regretted “the negative result” but still hoped the deal would win approval, adding that a no-deal exit would be catastrophic” for the UK. A statement from the office of the Irish taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, warned that a disorderly Brexit is a bad outcome for everyone, not least in Northern Ireland”.It is not too late to avoid this outcome and we call on the UK to set out how it proposes to resolve this impasse as a matter of urgency,” he said. Poland’s prime minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, said: “No-deal Brexit is a bad solution, both for the UK and the EU. Together with our partners in the EU we will respond to new British proposals.” The taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, warned against a ‘disorderly Brexit’. Photograph: Tom Honan Xavier Bettel, Luxembourg’s prime minister, called for the British government to find “solutions not problems”.“Now we need a fast and clear plan on how to proceed,” he said. From The Hague, the Dutch prime minister, Mark Rutte, said: “Despite this setback, it does not mean we are in a no-deal situation. The next step is up to the UK.” Barnier was engaged in late night talks with MEPs after the vote, but sources said Brussels would wait until after the weekend, giving British MPs time to coalesce around a clear plan, before engaging in substantive talks.

Now it’s time for the UK to tell us the next steps. On our side we will remain united and determined to reach an agreement.” EU officials predicted the first step would be for MPs to tell May to request an extension of the two-year negotiating period, removing the cliff edge of 29 March and setting off a debate among the other 27 member states on the terms of a prolongation. Brussels has repeatedly insisted it would not renegotiate the 585-page withdrawal agreement and the political declaration on the future relationship. Last month the EU27 rejected a 2021 target for completing trade talks, a request May believed could break the parliamentary deadlock. Juncker reiterated in his statement that the deal was “a fair compromise and the best possible deal”. However, in a sign of growing anxiety at the prospect of the UK crashing out, earlier on Tuesday the head of the eurozone’s finance ministers, Mário Centeno, had said he believed the EU and Britain would talk further and adjust their positions to avoid a no-deal Brexit, as the latest data confirmed the 19-member bloc was moving towards a period of slower growth. We can adjust our trajectory, Centeno said. We can open all the dossiers.We need to take informed decisions with total calm and avoid a no-deal exit. Practically anything is better than a no-deal exit. Before the vote, Germany’s foreign minister, Heiko Maas, also hinted at the flexibility the EU would show in the final act of the Brexit talks. If it goes wrong tonight, there could be further talks,” he said, while adding that he could not foresee “fundamental” changes.

The European parliament’s Brexit coordinator said the British parliament had said “what it doesn’t want”, and asked MPs to tell the EU what it did want. After belatedly receiving the prime minister’s formal letter requesting a three-month extension of article 50, and taking a late afternoon phone call with her, the European council president admitted that success appeared “frail, even illusory” on the eve of Thursday’s summit. The German foreign minister, Heiko Maas, tweeted: “The letter from Theresa May has not solved any problem yet. If the European council [summit of leaders] is to decide on an extension of the deadline for Britain, we would like to know what is the concrete purpose.” But Tusk said the EU would seek until the very last moment to avoid the UK crashing out without a deal and show “patience and goodwill” despite the “Brexit fatigue” in the capitals. The European commission is insisting that an extension beyond the date of the European elections on 23 May would require British MEPs to be elected, although others believe there is little risk as long as the UK has left by 1 July when the parliament formally convenes. In the light of the consultations that I have conducted over the past days I believe that a short extension will be possible but to be conditional on a positive vote on the withdrawal agreement in the House of Commons,” Tusk said. A question remains open as to the duration of such an extension. Prime Minister May’s proposal of the 30 June, which has its merits, creates a series of questions of a legal and political nature.


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