Finish line in sight for Brexit talks as UK and EU hold crunch meetings
It is judgment day for Brexit talks as the two sides hold respective meetings on Wednesday.
Ambassadors from the EU’s remaining 27 member states are set to discuss the Brexit agreement and the possibility of organising an emergency summit to sign off on it, while UK prime Minister Theresa May will meet with her cabinet at 2pm UK time.
If May manages to garner her cabinet’s support for the draft Withdrawal Agreement, the UK government will then face a battle to win Parliament's backing, with some conservative party MPs vowing to vote against it and Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) also expressing concern.
Any agreement would pave the way for a special EU summit to be convened later this month where it could be signed off by EU leaders.
As the dramatic news filtered out late on Tuesday, the Parliament Magazine canvassed opinion of senior MEPs.
Molly Scott Cato, Green Party speaker on Brexit, said: “This may be the beginning of the end-game in terms of arriving at a deal, but it’s a long way from an agreement. The deal will need to be signed off by EU27 leaders and the European Parliament and of course begin its rocky road through the UK Parliament. And crucially, the British people must have a say on this deal through a People’s Vote."
“It is abundantly clear that the deal will fail to offer us the economic, social and environmental benefits we currently enjoy as EU members. We now look to Labour to actually do the job of an opposition party; to scrutinise this deal and apply their six tests, which are highly unlikely to have been met. They must reject a job-destroying Brexit and support the growing cry for a People’s Vote.”
“SHAMBOLIC AND UNCERTAIN”
UK conservative deputy Charles Tannock told this website: “As we now enter the end-game of negotiations, it looks likely that Michel Barnier and Dominic Raab have managed to reach a draft proposed Withdrawal Agreement, although it is not yet clear whether the British cabinet will endorse it and even less clear that it will have the support of the majority of the House of Commons."
“It is abundantly clear that the [Brexit] deal will fail to offer us the economic, social and environmental benefits we currently enjoy as EU members” Molly Scott Cato MEP
“The main issues revolve around the backstop to ensure a fully open border in Ireland and whether or not this should be time limited and subject to the UK being able to unilaterally annul it.”
“In addition there is also the issue of the reported proposal from Mrs May that following the 21-month transition period, unless a technological solution can be found to keep the Irish border open, the backstop will be an all-UK membership of the EU Customs Union as well as a common rule book for goods, agricultural products and fisheries, which will leave only the smallest number of regulatory checks between Great Britain and Northern Ireland in future.”
“It looks likely that even these checks will be unacceptable to the DUP and the risk of being longish-term in the Customs Union means that the Brexiteers in the House of Commons would regard being in a customs unions as unacceptable, as it not only excludes the UK from having its own fully-independent trade policy, but there are also question marks as to who would police the necessary rules of state aid and environmental protection, as the EU is suggesting that it should be the ECJ whereas the UK wants an joint arbitration panel.”
The ECR member went on, “Therefore if I were to look into a crystal ball, the meaningful vote in late December or early January 2019 in the House of Commons may well result in a defeat of the Government's Withdrawal Agreement, creating a constitutional crisis, as Labour will whip its MPs strongly to vote against it.”
“In the event of a no-deal outcome, Labour will push for a general election and a vote of no confidence, which is very unlikely to succeed but there is a bigger chance of a people's vote or (second referendum) being agreed.”
Tannock said, “This raises two further problems. One is whether there is sufficient time before the 29 March to pass the necessary legislation and conduct the campaign unless an Article 50 extension is asked for and agreed to by the EU27, which is moot and also raises the difficult question of the European elections at the end of May, which the UK would be obliged to participate in under the European treaties.”
“The other problem being the wording on the ballot for a second referendum if it were to occur, namely for there to be a Remain option, which would be strongly opposed by certain elements such as the Labour leadership and ERG [European Research Group] Tories for example, who would prefer a simple referendum of Brexit with a deal versus no deal.”
“Never in my twenty years in elected politics have I seen something as shambolic and uncertain regarding my country's future” Charles Tannock MEP
Tannock added, “Never in my twenty years in elected politics have I seen something as shambolic and uncertain regarding my country's future. I say this with sorrow rather than anger that I predicted immediately after the Brexit result two and half years ago that the promises made by the Brexiteers that leaving the EU and untangling 45 years of building the project together would be neither quick nor easy and that it would prove remarkably challenging to deliver so-called frictionless trade with all the benefits that Britain has as an EU member state.”
“Nevertheless, I am confident that if in the unlikely event that there is a people's vote with a Remain option that the 2016 result can be reversed,” Tannock added.
UK Labour MEP Linda McAvan told this website, "The main problems facing Theresa May stem from her own red lines and internal problems in her party. Instead of standing up to the Tory Brexit hardliners, she has allowed them to call the shots, losing support from the mainstream. May now looks pretty friendless at Westminster. What happens next is anyone’s bet".
Her party colleague, Richard Corbett said, "The deadlock illustrates a wider problem. If you go ahead with Brexit, you face an unpalatable choice: either you leave the customs union and single market and take a huge economic hit, or you stay in them and have to follow the rules which you no longer have a say on. Neither is good for Britain."
“A GOVERNMENT IN OFFICE BUT NOT IN POWER”
SNP deputy Alyn Smith commented, "If anyone is tempted to feel sorry for Mrs May then do please remember that she is the maker of her own misfortune. She has knowingly pretended that Brexit could be all things to all people when it has been obvious to the dogs in the street that Brexit means making choices.”
Smith, another ardent ‘remainer’, said, “She promised "an all-UK approach" yet her administration has trashed or ignored constructive suggestions from Scotland and Wales, and on Northern Ireland I am quite sure history will hold her personally responsible for ruinously undermining a fragile peace.”
"Brexit is the ultimate proof of how wrong things can go with a referendum built on discontent. Everybody in this process is a loser, especially the Brits" Linnea Engstrom MEP"
"Where I think there is an appetite in Brussels to have something called a deal, even if it is largely meaningless and will fall apart within months, Mrs May's problem is that it is clear that she does not have a majority even for her holding position.”
“The waters are murky in Westminster at present, but when the crash comes it is clear that she has caused this crisis, and I would reiterate my plea to friends in Brussels that there are many of us working hard to reverse this, we will need time to do so and that will involve an extension of Article 50. Yes, it is not the policy of the UK government right now, but this is a government that is in office but not in power."
Swedish Greens MEP Linnea Engstrom told this website, “Brexit is the ultimate proof of how wrong things can go with a referendum built on discontent. Everybody in this process is a loser, especially the Brits, if they leave without a deal. A hard Brexit means a hard border, which will have devastating consequences for Northern Ireland and the single market.”
“The referendum did not really say anything on the mandate, since the facts where not on the table at that time.”
She added, “Ordinary citizens and companies rights are at stake. I sincerely believe that not many would have voted for Brexit if they knew the consequences.”
NIGHTMARE ON BREXIT STREET
Former UK Europe Minister Denis MacShane, also speaking to this website, said, “Mrs May has created her own nightmare. She refused after June 2016 to bring the nation together but kept repeating hard Brexit slogans.”
“As a result, too many Tory MPs believed it was not necessary to unite a divided UK around a sensible pragmatic compromise. Now she needs support for such a compromise based on the UK leaving the EU in political terms, but staying part of the EU in economic terms she has lost the support of too many MPs.”
The former Labour MP said, “The best way out now is to cut the Gordian knot by holding a new referendum, but she and Jeremy Corbyn seem united in opposing the right of the British people to vote on Brexit with all the new facts available today that were not known before June 2016. The leadership of the British political class may be taking us over the cliff edge of an economic catastrophe," he said.
Former UK Liberal MEP Andrew Duff added, “The only reason why a deal could be done is the collapse of Britain’s political parties and parliamentary democracy. There was only one way to minimise the damage of Brexit and that was to maintain a high level of regulatory equivalence with the EU acquis.”
“The referendum of 2016 was the first defeat for Britain; a collapse of the Article 50 negotiations in 2018 would be the second disaster. A second referendum would be the third catastrophe,” he added.
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