Pervasive stench of pessimism hangs over Brexit summit

Written by Martin Banks on 17 October 2018 in News
News

While both sides hope to break the stalemate keeping Brexit talks in limbo at this week’s key summit, hopes of a breakthrough are fading fast.

Photo credit: PA Photos


Two senior MEPs have spoken of their growing pessimism about the prospects of a Brexit deal being reached at this week’s crunch EU summit.

With EU leaders due to arrive in Brussels on Wednesday ahead of the meeting, centre right MEP Charles Tannock told this website he was not expecting a deal to be struck at the summit and took aim at his own Conservative party leadership for believing the EU would “crumble” during the talks.

 “Sadly I knew that the EU27 would never tolerate a cherry-picking deal to fragment the single market.) I also never believed that the unity of the EU27 would crumble as they would always stand by Dublin as Ireland was staying in the EU and defend the Good Friday peace agreement even at the cost of vetoeing a Withdrawal Agreement,” Tannock said.


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“From the very start in June 2016 I advocated the softest Brexit in order to reunite the country and [the] conservative party given the narrow result, flawed franchise and false promises made. I called for the UK to remain in the EU Single Market via EFTA & EEA and for UK to sign a Turkey-style Customs Union deal, a status now on offer by the EU27 as Norway+.”

“This would have reduced the Brexit economic impact to a minimum and defended the Good Friday peace treaty and kept the Northern Ireland border fully open. However, the British government's red lines of leaving the single market and customs union with no ECJ jurisdiction or EU budget contribution made my suggestions impossible.”

Tannock, who is due to take part in a march in London on Saturday in support of a so-called People’s Vote on Brexit, added," I would be very happy if that scenario unfolds."

GROWING RISK OF NO DEAL

Though EPP group MEP and member of parliament’s Brexit steering group Danuta Hübner shared Tannock’s concerns, she still believed that there was a chance of some sort of agreement this week.

“As we are approaching the final deadlines, the growing intensity of negotiations should be seen as natural. Following the sort of conclave of the last weekend, there was unfortunately no white smoke, even though I trust the teams spared no effort to make sure the scenario that would unfold would be a positive one,” Hübner said.

“Sadly I knew that the EU27 would never tolerate a cherry-picking deal to fragment the single market” Charles Tannock MEP

“It is not a secret at this stage that the issue which both sides are opposing is the Irish safeguard against a possible cliff-edge situation in the area of customs… It would be a mistake to speculate now about the outcome. There is still a chance to reach agreement on time and there is also a risk of not reaching it at all.”

“Without a political commitment of the UK government to the outcome of negotiations, we run a growing risk of no deal.”

EU MEMBERSHIP SATISFACTION

Meanwhile, the Eurobarometer survey, measuring public attitudes to the EU across member states and published on Wednesday, says that more people than ever consider their country’s membership of the European Union to be a good thing (62%). This is the highest figure recorded in the last 25 years.

Some 68% are also of the view that their country has benefitted from EU membership - the highest figure since 1983.

Moreover, 66% of European respondents would vote for their country to remain a member of the EU (a majority in all member states) and only 17% would contemplate leaving, with 17% undecided.

The survey shows a “growing sense of satisfaction” amongst Europeans in the democratic functioning of the EU (49%), representing a three-point increase since the previous survey in April, whilst 48% feel that their voice counts in the EU, though this latter sentiment appears to be on the decline in a number of countries.

The survey though is not all good news, however.

“Without a political commitment of the UK government to the outcome of negotiations, we run a growing risk of no deal” Danuta Hübner MEP

Half of respondents are not happy with the direction the EU is heading in, with a similar result regarding their own country. Public opinion also seems stable in terms of expectations about the role of the EU in the future, with 48% wanting the EU to play a more important role, as opposed to 27% preferring less.

Regarding the image of Parliament across the EU, one third (32%) hold a positive view, one fifth (21%) a negative view and a relative majority (43%) remain neutral.

AWARENESS OF EU ELECTIONS

There is growing awareness of next year’s European elections, with 41% correctly identifying the date in May 2019 - a nine-point increase over a similar survey six months ago and seven points more than in June 2013. However, 44% still could not say when the elections will be taking place, compared to 46% in June 2013.

With 51% of citizens declaring interest in the elections, citizens’ campaign priorities have evolved over the past six-month period. Immigration now tops the agenda (50%), followed by economy (47%) and youth unemployment (47%), whilst combatting terrorism moves down to fourth place with 44%.

Commenting on the results, parliament president Antonio Tajani said: “As details of the UK’s withdrawal agreement are being finalised, these figures highlight growing appreciation of the benefits of EU membership across the continent. Nevertheless, there is much work to be done.”

The Italian deputy added, “Continued cooperation and solidarity at the EU level is essential in delivering answers to the concerns of ordinary European citizens.”

ALDE group leader Guy Verhofstadt, Parliament’s Brexit coordinator, said, "The fact that 51% of UK citizens surveyed want to stay in the EU is a stark reminder of the deep divisions wrought by the Brexit decision and the need for us to find a sustainable and close long-term future relationship in the form of a broad and deep association agreement.”

“While we must prepare for all eventualities, it appears there is little appetite in the UK or elsewhere in the EU for a so-called hard Brexit, or a costly no-deal scenario, and I hope that the outcome of the negotiations will ultimately reflect this,” the Belgian MEP added.

About the author

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at The Parliament Magazine

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