Brexit Deal

  • UK’s May lobbies EU leaders in fight to save Brexit deal

    Top European Union officials on Tuesday ruled out any renegotiation of the divorce agreement with Britain, as Prime Minister Theresa May fought to save her Brexit deal by lobbying leaders in Europe’s capitals.

    May began her quest over breakfast with Dutch counterpart Mark Rutte, a day after she abandoned a vote in the U.K. Parliament to secure support for the agreement thrashed out with the EU over more than a year. She acknowledged that the deal would be rejected in London “by a significant margin.”

    Rutte revealed nothing of their conversation, tweeting only that they had “a useful dialogue which saw us discuss the latest Brexit developments.”

    But European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker warned that the agreement— almost 600 pages long, highly technical and legally binding — cannot be re-opened for negotiation at a summit of EU leaders on Thursday. He did say, however, that elements of the deal could still be clarified.

    “There is no room whatsoever for renegotiation,” Juncker told EU lawmakers in Strasbourg, France, as he briefed them on the summit.

    Juncker, who was set to meet May on Tuesday evening, reiterated that “the deal we have achieved is the best deal possible. It is the only deal possible.”

    But he added that “if used intelligently, (there) is room enough to give further clarification and further interpretations without opening the withdrawal agreement.”

    EU leaders have often supplemented agreements with political declarations that clarify their interpretation of elements of an accord or provide assurances about how parts of any deal might work.

    In Brussels, Danish Foreign Minister Anders Samuelsen also said that EU countries might be willing to clarify parts of the deal.

    “It is always a political option to clarify if that is needed, what is meant, what kind of underlining is needed,” Samuelsen told reporters.

    The main sticking point since the Brexit talks began is how to keep goods flowing seamlessly between EU member Ireland and the U.K’s Northern Ireland after Britain leaves the bloc.

    Concerned that no “hard border” should be created with customs posts and checks — structures that came under attack during Northern Ireland’s sectarian conflict — the EU and Ireland have demanded that a “backstop” guarantee be included. The measure, essentially an insurance policy, would keep Britain under EU customs rules until both sides agree on a better solution, and would only enter into force if no compromise is found by 2020 — though that deadline may be extended.

    Opponents say the backstop is unacceptable, arguing the mechanism binds Britain to the EU because it cannot get out of the customs union unilaterally.

    EU leaders have insisted that the backstop cannot be taken out of the deal, but May is sure to seek flexibility on this from her European partners.

    “We have a common determination to do everything to be not in the situation one day to use that backstop, but we have to prepare,” Juncker said.

    The European Parliament’s Brexit point man, Guy Verhofstadt, agreed that “it is out of the question to renegotiate the backstop.” He added that with the canceled vote in London “we have spiraled again into a new mess.”

    But Martin Callanan, Britain’s Minister of State at the Department for Exiting the EU, insisted that “the U.K. cannot be trapped permanently in the backstop.”

    “It is very important that these have to be additional legally binding reassurances,” he told reporters in Brussels, adding that what lies ahead is “a difficult and complex negotiation.”

    If the Brexit agreement is accepted by the U.K. Parliament, it must still be endorsed by the European Parliament before March 29.

    In Berlin, May was greeted by German Chancellor Angela Merkel with a handshake in wet, gray weather. They made no comment as they went into their meeting at the chancellery, and no statements or news conference was planned afterward.

    A senior German official said May would not get any pledge of new negotiations while in Berlin. And he stressed that the chief negotiators were in Brussels, not the German capital.

    Asked on the sidelines of an EU meeting in Brussels what May can expect from Merkel, Deputy Foreign Minister Michael Roth replied: “I hope they will wish each other Merry Christmas, strength and all the best for the new year. It’s good to speak to each other, but there will certainly be no promises of any kind that we will reopen matters now and renegotiate.”

    The embattled British premier was due in Brussels later Tuesday for meetings with Juncker and EU Council President Donald Tusk, who will chair Thursday’s summit. Tusk has also ruled out renegotiating the Brexit deal.

    In London, her spokesman said the government intends to hold the postponed vote in Parliament by Jan. 21, previously seen as a deadline for the government to inform Parliament of its Brexit plan.

  • Brexit deal almost done, but Spain holds out over Gibraltar

    Spain pushed Friday for a cast-iron guarantee of its say over the future of Gibraltar as a condition for backing a divorce agreement between Britain and European Union, as U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May battled to win approval for the deal from skeptical politicians and a Brexit-weary populace.

    Spain’s leader warned he would oppose the deal, which lays out the terms of Britain’s departure in March and sets up a framework for future relations, if language wasn’t added on Gibraltar, the disputed territory at the tip of the Iberian peninsula.

    Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez — who is due to join other EU leaders at a Brussels summit on Sunday to rubber-stamp the deal — tweeted that Britain and Spain “remain far away” on the issue and “if there are no changes, we will veto Brexit.”

    Spain wants the future of the tiny territory, which was ceded to Britain in 1713 but is still claimed by Spain, to be a bilateral issue between Madrid and London.

    Last year’s EU guidelines on the Brexit negotiations effectively gave Spain veto powers over future relations between the bloc and the British overseas territory. But Spanish officials are concerned that a key clause in the agreement referring to U.K.-EU negotiations on their future relationship makes no mention of Gibraltar.

    Spanish government spokeswoman Isabel Celaa said Spain required an “absolute guarantee” that any future agreement between the EU and the U.K. in matters regarding Gibraltar “will require the prior agreement of Spain.”

    Spain doesn’t have a veto on the withdrawal agreement, which doesn’t have to be approved unanimously. But it could hold up a future free-trade deal between Britain and the EU, which would require the approval of all 27 EU nations.

    Spain’s junior minister for the European Union, Luis Marco Aguiriano, said Friday that British authorities had made a commitment to address Spain’s concerns on Gibraltar, but that he had not yet seen it in writing.

    “We have a promise, a commitment, from the British government saying they are ready to … guarantee that they will go along with the clarification we have requested,” he said.

    After a meeting in Brussels Friday of senior EU officials, the Spanish government said negotiations were continuing but not enough progress had been made to drop the veto threat.

    Britain and the EU say the withdrawal agreement won’t be changed but haven’t ruled out putting something in writing to allay Spain’s fears.

    May said Friday that “we have been working with the government of Gibraltar and the government of Spain” on measures for Gibraltar.

    Chief Minister of Gibraltar Fabian Picardo criticized Spain’s insistence on a written guarantee, saying Gibraltar — a largely self-governing British overseas territory — “has demonstrated that we actually want a direct engagement with Spain on issues.”

    “Spain is the physical and geographical gateway to Europe for Gibraltar,” Picardo told the BBC. “We recognize that and there is absolutely no need for us to be vetoed into being brought to the table.”

    Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman said Germany believed outstanding questions would be cleared up in time for Sunday’s summit to go ahead.

    “We assume that open questions can be cleared up by Sunday,” spokesman Steffen Seibert said. “That is being worked on intensively, so the chancellor is preparing for the trip to Brussels.”

    If EU leaders sign off on the deal, it needs to be approved by the European and British Parliaments — a tough task for May, whose Conservatives lack a majority in the House of Commons.

    May answered calls on a radio phone-in show Friday in a bid to win public support for the divorce deal, which has been slammed by pro-Brexit and pro-EU politicians alike.

    Brexiteers think the agreement will leave the U.K. tied too closely to EU rules, while pro-Europeans say it will erect new barriers between Britain and the bloc — its neighbor and biggest trading partner.

    May declined to say when asked by a caller whether she would resign if the deal was rejected by Parliament.

    “This isn’t about me,” she said. “I’m not thinking about me. I’m thinking about getting a deal through that delivers for this country.”

    She warned that rejecting the deal would lead to “more uncertainty and more division” and could result in Britain crashing out of the bloc without agreement — an outcome feared by many businesses.

    “If this deal doesn’t go through what happens is, we end up back at square one,” May said.

    I don’t think (the EU) are going to come to us and say, ‘We’ll give you a better deal,’” she added.

  • Urgent : Fourth minister resigns over draft Brexit deal: statement

    London – Junior Brexit minister Suella Braverman became the fourth British government minister to resign on Thursday in protest at a draft withdrawal agreement with Brussels.

     

    Braverman said in a letter to Prime Minister Theresa May that “concessions” made to Brussels in the framework deal “do not respect the will of the people”.

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