EU: Brexit deal still possible this week, UK must act now

Anti-Brexit activists protest near the European Parliament in Brussels on October 9, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 15 October 2019

EU: Brexit deal still possible this week, UK must act now

  • Main challenge now is to turn British proposals on the complex issue of the border on the island of Ireland into something binding

LUXEMBOURG: A Brexit divorce deal is still possible ahead of Thursday's European Union summit but the British government needs to move ahead with more compromises to seal an agreement in the next few hours, the bloc said Tuesday.
Even though many open questions remain, diplomats made it clear that both sides were for the first time within touching distance since an earlier EU-U.K. Brexit withdrawal plan fell apart in the British House of Commons in March.
EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier said at a meeting of EU ministers that the main challenge now is to turn the new British proposals on the complex Irish border issue into something binding. EU member Ireland has a land border with the U.K.'s Northern Ireland and both want to keep that border invisible, for economic and peace treaty reasons. But once Britain leaves the bloc, that Irish border turns into an external EU border that the bloc wants to keep secure.
Barnier said it's "high time to turn good intentions into a legal text." He wants a clear answer by Wednesday morning to tell EU capitals what should be decided once the bloc's two-day summit kicks off on Thursday.
"Even if an agreement will be difficult — more and more difficult, we think — it is still possible this week," Barnier said.
To further boost the momentum, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson called French President Emmanuel Macron to discuss where more movement could be found.
Britain is scheduled to leave the EU on Oct. 31, and the EU summit this week was long considered one of the last possible chances to approve a divorce agreement to accommodate that deadline. Johnson insists his country will leave at the end of the month with or without a divorce deal, but British lawmakers have been adamant on avoiding a no-deal Brexit.
Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney, who had a long, intense talk with Barnier early Tuesday, said the EU believes "this is difficult, but it is doable." He said Barnier addressed EU ministers and "did point to progress in the last number of days where the gaps have been narrowed."
A senior German official wouldn't rule out a Brexit agreement in principle by Wednesday afternoon, but stressed the importance of time-consuming specifications.
"The basis for our decisions are legal texts in which the details are settled," the official, who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity in line with department rules, said in Berlin. "But there has been progress, and as always in these negotiations the biggest progress happens over the final meters."
Late Monday, Dutch Foreign Minister Stef Blok said the British proposals to keep the Irish border protected from smuggling and fraud once it leaves the bloc were insufficient.
"The U.K. proposal contained some steps forward but not enough to guarantee that the internal market will be protected," Blok said.
One EU diplomat said for things to work, technical negotiators would need to finish their text and make it available by 10 a.m. Wednesday so European governments have time to assess them.
EU ministers insisted it was time for Johnson to make the next move — and he seemed to be listening. Besides the call with Macron, Johnson shifted Britain's weekly Cabinet meeting from Tuesday to Wednesday so he could give his ministers a better idea of Brexit progress.
If talks fail or stumble ahead of the EU summit, there could always be an extraordinary meeting just ahead of the Oct. 31 Brexit departure — or the Brexit deadline could be extended again.
"There will be progress tomorrow, the question is how big this progress will be," the German official said. "Is this progress so great that work is still needed, but this work can be done in the next few days? Or is the progress such that two more months' work is needed?"
Brexit negotiators, politicians and ordinary Europeans were all waiting for the answers to those questions.


Brussels to ‘rebuild’ ties with UK after Boris win: EU Internal Market Commissioner

Updated 13 December 2019

Brussels to ‘rebuild’ ties with UK after Boris win: EU Internal Market Commissioner

  • Both sides then still need to thrash out a new trade and security agreement
  • Any future trade deal had to ensure that the EU’s social and environmental norms were also applied to trade with Britain

PARIS: The EU will have to rebuild its ties with London after Boris Johnson’s election victory which is likely to lead to Brexit in January, the EU’s Internal Market Commissioner said on Friday.
“We now have to rebuild relations with Great Britain which is an important partner,” Thierry Breton told French RTL radio, saying the bloc wanted “balanced” trade relations with the UK.
With almost all results declared for the 650-seat British parliament, Johnson’s Conservative party has secured a sweeping victory and he is now expected to deliver on his promise to “Get Brexit Done.”
His majority should allow him to get the divorce deal he struck with Brussels through parliament in time to meet the next Brexit deadline of January 31.
Both sides then still need to thrash out a new trade and security agreement.
Breton said he expected the European Council meeting Friday in Brussels to give the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier a new mandate for talks with London.
He said Britain was a very important trade partner for the EU, “but we are by far the biggest trading partner for Britain.”
Any future trade deal had to ensure that the EU’s social and environmental norms were also applied to trade with Britain.