The latest instalment of the Brexit soap opera highlights the need for a national rethink over the UK’s impending divorce from the EU, MEPs say.
Hopes of a breakthrough in talks were raised on Sunday when UK Brexit secretary Dominic Raab made an unscheduled trip to Brussels to meet with EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, but negotiations faltered over the need for a back-up plan - known as the backstop - to avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
“There is no sign of an agreement over the Irish border that does not threaten either the hard-won peace [in Northern Ireland] or the unity of the single market. Any possible and negotiable Brexit would be much worse for the UK than maintaining our [EU] membership,” said senior UK Green group MEP Molly Scott Cato.
“This is why I am campaigning hard for a People’s Vote to allow a national rethink and a decision on the reality of Brexit rather than the broken promises,” Scott Cato added.
Her comments to this website on Monday came as the Democratic Unionist Party’s (DUP) Brexit spokesman called the prospect of a no-deal Brexit "probably inevitable".
INSURMOUNTABLE BORDER HURDLE?
The DUP, which is effectively propping up Theresa May’s government in Westminster, has vowed to oppose any new checks on goods passing between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
A UK government spokesperson, meanwhile, refused to be drawn on the outcome of Sunday’s one-hour meeting between Raab and Barnier.
“She [Theresa may] is a prisoner of the extremes in her own party and those in Ulster who hate Dublin and Brussels in equal measure"
The Irish border question has now become a significant sticking point and has cast serious doubt on the chances of a Brexit deal being reached at this week’s crunch EU summit in Brussels. European council president Donald Tusk is thought to have provisionally pencilled in a special Brexit summit for November if no agreement is finalised this week.
The UK is due to leave the EU at the end of March 2019, but the prospect of a no-deal outcome, which would see Britain crash out of the bloc and revert to World Trade Organisation rules, has re-emerged following the latest meeting between the two chief negotiators.
“PRISONER OF EXTREMES”
Former UK Europe Minister Denis McShane told the Parliament Magazine that UK Prime Minister Theresa May wants to retain her “have a cake and eat it approach.”
“She [May] is a prisoner of the extremes in her own party and those in Ulster who hate Dublin and Brussels in equal measure and want to use Brexit to bring back a hard border separating the six counties of Northern Ireland under British rule from the rest of Ireland.”
“Until she is prepared to face down those two small groups of extremist MPs in the UK she will always be their prisoner and the chances of major damage being done to the UK economy by Britain just ending all current trade and regulatory arrangements become higher. The answer is for the UK as a whole to stay in the Customs Union and then negotiate all new arrangements after 29 March 2019,” McShane said.
Richard Corbett, UK Socialist MEP and member of the constitutional affairs committee, said: “The Brexit talks are breaking down because if the UK government wants the whole UK to stay in the customs union until an alternative solution is found to the Irish border problem, such an alternative has to be agreed by both sides.”
“But this is unacceptable to Tory Brexiteers,” he added.
POLL PILES ON THE PRESSURE
The results of a new poll will put fresh pressure on Theresa May to secure a Brexit agreement with Brussels.
The YouGov survey for the Fabian Society said that only a tiny fraction of voters want the UK to have a “distant” relationship with the EU after Brexit.
In contrast, 87 percent want the UK prime minister to negotiate an agreement that would ensure a future relationship with the EU that is either “close and warm” or “practical and neutral”.
The poll also emphasised public opposition to a no-deal outcome, which would see Britain crash out of the bloc and revert to WTO rules.
UKIP MEP Jonathan Bullock said that the stalemate “charade” was “fooling nobody”.
"The whole [Brexit] negotiation process has been a sham designed to keep us shackled to the EU for as long as possible. To truly embrace the benefits of leaving the EU, we need to get out as soon as possible," Bullock said.