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No deal for Brexit, but parties ‘positive’ about progress

British Prime Minister Theresa May, left, and European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker address a media conference as they meet for Brexit negotiations on Monday at the European Commission in Brussels. (AFP)
LONDON: The EU and Britain concluded a day of talks on Monday without a deal in terms of the Brexit divorce.
However, the British Prime Minister Theresa May and EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said they were hopeful of striking a deal that would allow talks to advance to further stages.
The meetings on Monday saw the parties fail to reach complete progress on the main divorce issues: The growing exit bill, rights of citizens in the respective territories and guarantees of a transparent border with Ireland.
The EU leaders want a deal on these issues in time for them to agree at a summit on Dec. 14-15 on next-stage talks. “Despite our best efforts and the significant process we and our teams have made over the past days on the remaining withdrawal issues, it was not possible to reach an agreement,” said Juncker at a joint news conference with May. “This is not a failure,” Juncker added.
“I am also confident we will conclude this positively,” said May.
The Irish agreement under discussion would allow for the border between EU member Ireland and the UK territory of Northern Ireland to remain transparent for trade purposes. However, concerns have been raised by Northern Ireland’s DUP Party — upon which May’s minority government relies to stay in power — that any “differences” between the treatment of Northern Ireland and the rest of Britain would not be acceptable.
Despite the “positivity” of Monday’s talks, the lack of progress so far has raised concerns that Britain may not have a deal on key issues by the time it officially leaves on March 29, 2019.
According to Professor Iain Begg, professorial research fellow at the European Institute at the London School of Economics, the time pressure to reach a decision is critically mounting.
“Each day that goes by without a deal increases pressure on the British government and reduces May’s power for negotiation by compressing the negotiation timetables,” Begg told Arab News.
“The Brexit divorce bill just keeps going up,” he said, noting however that the divorce bill — reportedly amounting to $40 billion — had probably now “reached its limit.”
On the thorny issue of Ireland, Begg said: “Northern Ireland doesn’t want to be different from the UK but it also doesn’t want a ‘hard border’ with Ireland, as that would contravene the Good Friday agreement. In the end, it may come down to a decision about who gets the least upset.”
He added: “The British were ill-equipped to deal with the negotiations of Brexit because (former UK Prime Minister) David Cameron did not ask researchers to prepare a Brexit strategy before the referendum. The negotiations started with no plan in place on the British side … but the European side had set up a very clear mandate. Britain has been playing catch-up.”

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