EU warns May ‘clock ticking’ for December Brexit deal

British Prime Minister Theresa May, left, speaks with Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven during a bilateral meeting prior to an EU summit in Goteborg, Sweden on Thursday, Nov. 16, 2017. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo. Pool)
Updated 17 November 2017
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EU warns May ‘clock ticking’ for December Brexit deal

GOTHENBURG, Sweden: EU leaders warned British Prime Minister Theresa May on Friday that the “clock is ticking” to make Brexit concessions and it is increasingly likely talks will fail to move on to the next phase in December.
Britain’s impending split threatened to overshadow an EU summit in the Swedish port city of Gothenburg that was meant to focus on improving social standards and seeing off the threat of populism in the post-Brexit future.
May expressed hopes the bloc would respond “positively” after she met several leaders on the sidelines, but they all warned that time was running out to settle the key divorce issues, and unlock negotiations next month on a trade deal and transition period.
“The clock is ticking. I hope that we will be able to come to an agreement as far as the divorce is concerned at the December council (summit) but work has still to be done,” European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker said.
EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier warned last week that Britain had just two weeks to meet the bloc’s conditions on its divorce bill, citizens’ rights and the Irish border if it wanted an agreement.
Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar struck a firm line, saying Dublin’s demands that Brexit should create no “hard border” between British-ruled Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland must be “written down” in the conclusions of the first phase.
“If we have to wait until the new year, or if we have to wait for further concessions, so be it,” Varadkar told reporters before having breakfast with May.
“It’s 18 months since the referendum, it’s 10 years since people who wanted a referendum started agitating for one, sometimes it doesn’t seem like they’ve thought all this through,” he added.
May said Britain would “honor our commitments” on the exit bill, as she promised in a speech in Florence in September, and urged the bloc to start trade talks now.
“I look forward to the European Union responding positively to that so we can move forward together and ensure that we can get the best possible arrangements for the future,” May said.
British media reports have suggested May could be ready to double the UK’s €20 billion offer on the exit bill in a bid to clear what has been the most difficult hurdles in talks so far. The EU says the bill is around €60 billion.
She will also meet European Council President Donald Tusk, with Tusk set to warn her that opening the next phase “is not a given, will require more work and that time is short,” an EU source told AFP.
Failure to reach a deal in December would push back a decision until February or March, leaving little time for trade talks before Britain leaves the bloc in March 2019.
May’s government is still pressing for a quick transition to future EU-British ties while shrugging off EU pressure on the divorce terms.
British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said in Dublin on Friday that doing so would help solve the Irish issue, while Barnier’s British negotiating counterpart David Davis called on the EU to compromise across the board.
“Surprise, surprise: nothing comes for nothing in this world,” Davis told the BBC in Gothenburg, adding that various EU countries “can see there are big, big benefits in the future deal that we’re talking about.”
Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven, who also held talks with May, said it was “very dificult to say” whether a deal was possible in December and added that London “needs to clarify what they mean about the financial responsibility.”
But Lofven said he also wanted to keep the focus on the so-called “social summit” in Sweden, which is the first step in a two-year reform drive to show the bloc can survive after Brexit and other setbacks, by tackling the economic inequalities fueling populism.
EU leaders are looking to reboot the union based on plans by France’s new president Emmanuel Macron and by Juncker.
“This is absolutely crucial for EU’s legitimacy,” Lofven told reporters at the meeting, the bloc’s first social summit since one in 1997 in Luxembourg.
Most of the EU’s 28 national leaders attending with the exception of Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, the bloc’s economic and political lodestar, who is in Berlin for talks on a new governing coalition.
Berlin said she fully supports the meeting’s goals, which will be enshrined in a European Pillar of Social Rights signed by key figures on Friday.
Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite shrugged off suggestions the Gothenburg summit would be hijacked by the Brexit issue, quipping “No, at least not this one.”


EU offers to extend Brexit transition as leaders meet

Updated 16 min 18 sec ago
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EU offers to extend Brexit transition as leaders meet

  • EU negotiator Michel Barnier is ready to add a year to the 21-month post Brexit transition period
  • The main disagreement between London and Brussels is over how to keep the Irish border open after Brexit

BRUSSELS: The European Union is ready to extend Brexit’s post-divorce transition period by a year to allow more time to find a trade deal, diplomats said Wednesday ahead of a difficult summit.
Prime Minister Theresa may is due in Brussels later in the day to address the other 27 EU leaders on the stalled negotiations toward a divorce deal to bring Britain out of the Union.
Talks are at an impasse over the issue of a legal backstop to keep the border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic open after the UK leaves the bloc on march 29 — but EU negotiator Michel Barnier has an idea.
According to two European diplomats, Barnier is ready to add a year to the 21-month post Brexit transition period — taking it to the end of 2021 — to provide more space to strike a trade deal.
This offer would not in itself resolve the back-stop issue, which must be settled in the Brexit treaty that must be ratified before March to avoid a damaging “no deal” scenarios.
But the extension would grant more time to agree a new EU-UK trade relationship and avoid the need for separate plans for Northern Ireland, which London staunchly opposes.
The diplomats said that Barnier had revealed his offer to EU ministers at a meeting in Luxembourg on Wednesday.
With the offer on the table, Europe is seeking to put pressure on May to come to Brussels with ideas of her own.
“I am going to ask Prime Minister May whether she has concrete proposals on how to break the impasse,” EU president Donald Tusk declared.
But May, hemmed in by opponents in her own party and even in her own cabinet, has no such proposals.
The choreography of Wednesday’s summit opening emphasises British isolation.
May will meet one-on-one with Tusk at 17:45 (1545 GMT) before briefing her 27 European colleagues, but then the rest of the EU leaders will leave to discuss Brexit over dinner without her.
Tusk has made it clear that if May and EU negotiator Michel Barnier do not offer signs of concrete progress toward a draft deal he will not call a November summit to sign it.
Instead, the whole circus could either be pushed back to December or — more dramatically — the EU could use the November weekend to meet on preparations for a “no-deal” Brexit.
Previously, both sides had agreed that Britain crashing out of the Union on March 29 next year with neither a divorce agreement nor a road-map to future ties would be an economic and diplomatic disaster.
But, after Britain’s refusal to accept an indefinite legal “backstop” to prevent the return of a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic, doubts are mounting.
“I think we are quite close to a no-deal,” warned Konrad Szymanski, the Polish minister for European Affairs after a pre-summit meeting with his European counterparts in Luxembourg.
Back in Brussels, a stern Tusk said he had “no grounds for optimism” based on a report Tuesday from Barnier and May’s appearance in parliament on Monday.
The main disagreement between London and Brussels is over how to keep the Irish border open after Brexit, but May is also fighting with her own MPs, who must ultimately approve the final divorce deal.
At a three-hour cabinet meeting on Tuesday morning, which included ministers with reservations about her strategy, May said a deal was possible if they all stood together.
“I’m convinced that if we as a government stand together and stand firm, we can achieve this,” she said, according to her spokesman.
Addressing MPs in the House of Commons on Monday, May had said a deal was “achievable” while sticking to her principles on the Irish border issue.
But a senior European official said the speech had only underscored for Barnier the uphill struggle he faces to get an agreement.
To solve the Irish question, Britain has proposed staying aligned to the EU’s customs rules until a wider trade deal can be signed that avoids the need for any frontier checks.
But her own euroskeptic Conservative MPs are demanding this “backstop” arrangement be time-limited, something the EU will not accept.
May said the EU was also insisting on its own “backstop” in case the London proposal did not work, which would see Northern Ireland alone stay aligned to the customs union and single market.
She says this would threaten the integrity of the United Kingdom — and it is strongly opposed by her Northern Irish allies from the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).
Economists fear “no deal” Brexit would greatly disrupt trade, travel and manufacturers’ supply chains in Europe, push Britain into recession and even have global consequences.
On Tuesday, the chairman of the US Federal Reserve Jerome Powell warned that a “disorderly Brexit” would slow the EU economy as a whole and have a knock-on effect on US banks.