October 16, 2018

Brexit latest: What the key players in Brexit are saying

By Priya Kantaria

UK Prime Minister Theresa May addressed the House of Commons on the Brexit latest, where she said: “Taken together, the shape of a deal across the vast majority of the withdrawal agreement – the terms of our exit – are now clear.

“We also have broad agreement on the structure and scope of the framework for our future relationship, with progress on issues like security, transport and services.

“And perhaps, most significantly, we have made progress on Northern Ireland – where, Mr Speaker, the EU has been working with us to respond to the very real concerns we had on their original proposals.”

The Northern Ireland issue

May explained why the issues around Northern Ireland were so important: “Both the UK and the EU share a profound responsibility to ensure the preservation of the Belfast Good Friday Agreement, protecting the hard-won peace and stability in Northern Ireland and ensuring that life continues essentially as it does now.

“We agree that our future economic partnership should provide for solutions to the unique circumstances in Northern Ireland in the long term.

“And, while we are both committed to ensuring that this future relationship is in place by the end of the implementation period, we accept that there is a chance that there may be a gap between the two.

“This is what creates the need for a backstop to ensure that, if such a temporary gap were ever to arise, there would be no hard-border between Northern Ireland and Ireland – or indeed anything that would threaten the integrity of our precious union.”

May addresses concerns

May reiterated that she would not accept a situation which the EU had previously proposed, where there would be a “backstop that would see Northern Ireland carved-off in the EU’s customs union and parts of the single market, separated through a border in the Irish Sea from the UK’s own internal market”.

She went on to admit that the EU had said there was not enough time in negotiations now to work out the detail of a UK-wide customs solution to the backstop.

The EU had asked for a “‘backstop to the backstop’ – effectively an insurance policy for the insurance policy”, that would be the Northern Ireland-only solution they suggested before.

There seems to be an impasse then between what May says she will accept and what the EU are insisting on.

May said a Northern Ireland-only solution, temporary or not, “threatens the integrity of our United Kingdom” and also showed the proposal was unlawful under the Cross-border Trade Act.

She added that: “People are rightly concerned that what is only meant to be temporary could become a permanent limbo – with no new relationship between the UK and the EU ever agreed.”

EU says no-deal is likely

The European Council president Donald Tusk said in an invitation letter to a leaders’ summit: “We should nevertheless remain hopeful and determined, as there is good will to continue these talks on both sides. But at the same time, responsible as we are, we must prepare the EU for a no-deal scenario, which is more likely than ever before. Like the UK, the commission has started such preparations, and will give us an update during the meeting.

“But let me be absolutely clear. The fact that we are preparing for a no-deal scenario must not, under any circumstances, lead us away from making every effort to reach the best agreement possible, for all sides.”

Germany will not be blackmailed

Germany’s Europe Minister Michael Roth said to the BBC: “We’ve had to pause negotiations because the British side have told us they first need to see how far they can go. And we need to decide is there any room for movement on our side as well. I had hoped for a seal-the-deal Brexit summit in November. We are close but we need to prepare for the worst case scenario too, a disorderly no-deal Brexit. Maybe the EU will have to hold a special summit in November to prepare for that.

“It is our duty in the EU to negotiate in the interest of European citizens. The integrity of the single market is hugely important, which seems hard for the UK to accept. Basically finding agreement with the UK now comes down to us all agreeing the guarantee to avoid the hard border in Ireland, and we, the EU, are not going to allow ourselves to be blackmailed.”

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