Archive for the ‘negotiations’ Category

Maas: EU should discuss whether to reopen Brexit deal

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said the EU will have to talk about whether to reopen the draft Brexit deal, but only if all EU members agreed.

“In the end, it is about the question [of] whether the deal should be reopened, which would need the approval of all [remaining] 27 member states. This is what needs to be discussed now,” Maas said late Thursday on German TV.

“The British have up to now always said what they don’t want. Now they must also say what they want,” Maas said.

The EU has repeatedly warned the U.K. that there would be no renegotiation of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement, despite Prime Minister Theresa May’s failure to win support for the deal in the British parliament.

However, maintaining EU27 unity might become more difficult as the U.K.’s departure nears and the risk of a potentially damaging no-deal scenario remains.

Maas revisited the issue early Friday, tweeting that it is “hardly imaginable that the Withdrawal Agreement will be reopened,” adding “we have always made that very clear and the vote in London has not changed that.”


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May to Corbyn: Ruling out no deal Brexit is ‘impossible condition’

Ruling out a no-deal Brexit is an “impossible” precondition for participation in cross-party talks to resolve the political deadlock, Theresa May told opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn in a letter published today.

After the prime minister survived a no confidence motion on Wednesday night Corbyn told MPs he would not enter into talks with her unless she ruled out a no-deal Brexit.

In her letter to the opposition leader, she said this was “an impossible condition because it is not within the Government’s power to rule out no deal.”

The prime minister argued there were “two ways to avoid a no deal” which were either “to vote for a deal, in particular a Withdrawal Agreement, that has been agreed with the EU or to revoke article 50 and overturn the referendum.” The latter option she said was “wrong.”

She added that the EU would not agree to extend Article 50 in order to give the UK more time to debate Brexit.

May said she would “sincerely urge” Corbyn to accept her offer for talks, stressing her “doors would remain open.”

In a speech in Hastings this morning, Corbyn called May’s talks with opposition leaders a “stunt.”

“With no deal on the table the prime minister will enter into phoney talks just to run down the clock,” he said.


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Brexit: What now?

LONDON — Put a faint cross through March 29, 2019. Pencil in December 31, 2019.

Now that Theresa May has survived the latest attempt to drag her from office — a no-confidence vote on Wednesday evening — she will face a parliamentary ambush designed to wrestle away control of the Brexit negotiations. That could result in Britain’s withdrawal being delayed for nine months.

A lot needs to happen before then.

Here’s what.

Thursday, January 16

By defeating Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s attempt to force a general election through a vote of no confidence in the government, the U.K. prime minister has bought herself time.

May said she would immediately begin negotiations with the leaders of parliamentary parties to try to find a compromise Brexit that could be negotiated with the EU.

British Prime Minister Theresa May | Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

The talks will include Tory and Democratic Unionist Party MPs who want to see more safeguards built into the Irish backstop, including a cutoff date or a unilateral exit mechanism, neither of which Brussels has said it is willing to accept.

Also up will be MPs from the Labour Party who want Brexit delivered, but a softer version with closer regulatory alignment with the EU, a permanent customs union and greater environmental and labor protections.

Justice Secretary David Gauke suggested the government might be willing to offer a full customs union as the price of a deal. “At this stage we are engaging with parliamentary opinion,” he said Wednesday. “I don’t think we can today be boxing ourselves in.”

The big danger for May now is that she loses control before she can make any progress.

Monday, January 20

Under the terms of a controversial amendment put forward by Tory backbencher Dominic Grieve and forced on the government by MPs earlier this month, the prime minister must return to parliament by Monday setting out how she plans to proceed following MPs’ rejection of her Brexit deal.

This will take the form of a motion in the House of Commons, which can be amended by MPs before a vote within seven working days. May’s aides have said they plan to move to a vote “quickly,” suggesting sometime that week.

EU officials are not expecting May to visit Brussels until the end of next week at the earliest, giving her a small window of time to find a new compromise package which most MPs now expect to lean heavily toward a softer Brexit along the lines sought by Tory rebels and Labour MPs.

The January ambush

The big danger for May now is that she loses control before she can make any progress.

This starts with an amendment being drawn up by Tory MP Nick Boles, which seeks to take a no-deal off the table and empower MPs to find a compromise Brexit acceptable to a majority of the House of Commons.

The idea is to amend the “Plan B” motion May is expected to lay on January 20, not simply to propose a different type of Brexit but to change parliamentary rules — so-called Standing Orders — to allow backbench MPs to rush through new legislation in a single day ruling out no deal.

Anti-Brexit protesters demonstrate outside the Houses of Parliament on January 15, 2019 in London | Jack Taylor/Getty Images

If the amendment secures a majority, it sets aside parliamentary time for a new EU Withdrawal Bill, which will take precedence over all government business.

Boles and his allies believe this bill could become law by mid-February and he is confident it has majority support.

Three-week window

The Boles law would give the government three further weeks to secure a new deal with the EU that has majority support in the Commons. This takes the country to early March, perilously close to Brexit Day on March 29.

At this point, the liaison committee — the most senior committee of the House — would be handed the power to obtain a majority in favor of an alternative plan.

The liaison committee — made up of committee chairs and led by the anti-Brexit Tory MP Sarah Wollaston — would become the de facto government of the U.K., with the actual government becoming the real opposition in all but name. The places in the Commons would stay the same, but the power would have shifted.

EU leaders (who must agree unanimously) have indicated that they would be open to an extension in pursuit of a defined aim, but not just to prolong the Brexit uncertainty.

Under the Boles plan, the government would be compelled to implement whatever is proposed by the liaison committee if it is approved by the House of Commons and agreed by the EU.

If the liaison committee fails in this task — or refuses — the Boles law, as currently drafted, would compel the government to seek a nine-month extension of the Article 50 process. 

Brexit get-out

What if the government and the liaison committee fail to come up with an alternative plan and then the European Union rejects the application for an extension to Article 50? EU leaders (who must agree unanimously) have indicated that they would be open to an extension in pursuit of a defined aim, but not just to prolong the Brexit uncertainty. If there is no plan they might refuse.

At this point, MPs opposed to Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union want the government to unilaterally revoke Article 50, stopping Brexit in its tracks. Under the current Boles plan, the government would not be compelled to do so, though some MPs may seek to amend the plan to make this explicit.

This article is from POLITICO Pro: POLITICO’s premium policy service. To discover why thousands of professionals rely on Pro every day, email [email protected] for a complimentary trial.


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Brussels waits for May to reach out to her opponents

EU to London: Talk it over and get back to us.

That’s the message from EU leaders who Tuesday night watched the Brexit deal painstakingly negotiated with Theresa May’s government go down to a crushing defeat in the House of Commons.

EU leaders in Brussels and capitals across the Continent expressed regret at the result and vowed to step up emergency planning for a no-deal scenario — something the EU is now “fearing more than ever,” according to Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier.

But the focus, according to senior EU officials, has now shifted to the sequencing laid out by May on Tuesday night in the wake of the historic defeat.

Even as Brexiteers on May’s backbenches were claiming the vote gives her a mandate for new negotiations, she pledged to begin a new dialogue with MPs across the aisle, on a plan that could win the support of the majority of the House. If that results in a softening of May’s red lines, then new possibilities might open up in Brussels.

“Brexit will do harm, to the United Kingdom, to the European Union. It is our collective responsibility to limit that harm as much as possible.” — Commission First Vice President Frans Timmermans

Assuming May survives a no-confidence vote in her leadership, as she is widely expected to do, Brussels first wants to see what May can achieve.

“Only after that dialogue in the U.K. parliament about where to go from here, only after that can there be a new dialogue with Brussels,” a senior EU official said.

Open line

At the European Council summit in December, where May’s request for additional legal assurances was rebuffed, one EU official noted that the European Commission seems to have a more open line of communication to U.K. opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn than she does.

For the other EU leaders, all veterans of legislative battles in their own national parliaments, that lack of communication is a clear signal that May has failed to do the necessary spade work to cobble together a majority behind the deal.

British Prime Minister Theresa May | Sean Gallup/Getty Images

The message from Dublin Wednesday was that that work can only be done in London.

“We should never forget that Brexit is a British policy that originated in Westminster,” said Leo Varadkar, the Irish prime minister. “After months of negotiation, we found a solution. That solution has now been rejected by Westminster. The problem now lies there.”

“The onus is on Westminster to come up with solutions they can support and that Europe can accept,” he added.

“The ball is in the field of our British friends,” echoed Manfred Weber, the leader of the European People’s Party group in the Parliament and the front-runner candidate for Commission president. “Please, please tell us finally: What do you want to achieve?”

But while Brussels isn’t going to offer up any concessions until the U.K. clarifies its position, the EU’s stance is not set in stone. “We have always said that if the United Kingdom were to evolve from its red lines on the customs union and the single market, that the European position could also evolve,” said Varadkar.

Wait and see

At the Commission’s daily midday briefing, chief spokesperson Margaritis Schinas repeated the wait-and-see mantra. “There’s nothing else we can do at this stage,” he said. And while he said the 585-page Withdrawal Agreement would not be renegotiated, there was more flexibility over the Political Declaration document. The idea is not “far from reality,” Schinas said.

Meanwhile, officials said there is no pressure whatsoever on Dublin to give any ground on the “backstop” provision on the Northern Ireland border. Speaking to MEPs, Commission First Vice President Frans Timmermans declared the backstop “non-negotiable” — no matter that many British MPs said it was their reason for opposing ratification.

First Vice President of the European Commission Frans Timmermans | Frederick Florin/AFP via Getty Images

Timmermans led the Commission’s response at the start of a debate Wednesday morning at the plenary of the European Parliament in Strasbourg, where he warned that Brexit would be damaging whether there is a deal or not.

“Let’s not create the illusion that this could be a process without harm,” Timmermans said. “Brexit will do harm, to the United Kingdom, to the European Union. It is our collective responsibility to limit that harm as much as possible.”

He again warned MPs in London about expecting to cherry-pick EU benefits. “You can’t honestly say ‘I’m going to leave the European Union but I’m going to take with me everything I like, regardless of what that does to the European Union.’”

In closing, Timmermans turned to an oracle of political wisdom — the Rolling Stones. “You can’t always get what you want,” he said, “but if you try sometimes you might get what you need.”

This article is part of POLITICO’s premium Brexit service for professionals: Brexit Pro. To test our our expert policy coverage of the implications and next steps per industry, email [email protected] for a complimentary trial.


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Michel Barnier sees high risk of no-deal Brexit

The risk of a no-deal Brexit is up sharply and the EU must step up its emergency planning, the bloc’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, said Wednesday.

Barnier issued his stark warning in the European Parliament plenary in Strasbourg, the morning after the U.K. parliament voted overwhelmingly to reject the Withdrawal Agreement he and his team negotiated with Prime Minister Theresa May.

“We’re only 10 weeks away from the end of the month of March that is the moment chosen by the British government to become a third country,” Barnier said. “We are fearing more than ever the risk of a no deal.

“We must remain lucid and clear in our approach, which is why we are stepping up our efforts to be prepared for that possibility,” Barnier continued, adding: “We will have to speed up our efforts working with all the stakeholders and partners who will be called on to take contingency measures to face possible consequences of that outcome.”

As the European Parliament debated the outcome of the vote, other senior EU officials expressed continuing dismay at the lack of any clear path forward on the British side, and the continuing disagreement over what Britain seeks in its post-EU future.

“The ball is in the field of our British friends,” said Manfred Weber, the leader of the European People’s Party group in the Parliament and the front-runner candidate for European Commission president. “Please, please tell us finally: What do you want to achieve?”

Even as speaker after speaker implored the U.K. to clarify its goals, Barnier said that the withdrawal treaty remained the most viable solution.

“The compromise that we reached after 18 months with the British government remains today the best possible compromise,” he said. “It is the fruit of constructive work on both sides.”

Barnier, who is known for his even-keeled demeanor, insisted that he would continue to deal amicably with the British side. But he also showed a rare flash of anger and frustration over the contradictory positions of U.K. MPs who opposed the Withdrawal Agreement and the continuing lack of any Brexit plan that could win a majority on the U.K. side.

“We note by listening to the public declarations at the House of Commons that those who voted against it did it for very diverse, sometimes opposed, even contradictory motives,” he said. “This vote is therefore objectively not the clear evidence of a positive majority, which would define an alternative project to the agreement that is on the table”

During the Parliament debate, Commission First Vice President Frans Timmermans declared that the “backstop” provision on the Northern Ireland border was non-negotiable. Timmermans also warned that Brexit would be damaging and cautioned the U.K. against trying to have its cake and eat it too.

“Let’s not create the illusion that this could be a process without harm,” said Timmermans. “Brexit will do harm, to the United Kingdom, to the European Union. It is our collective responsibility to limit that harm as much as possible.”

To the Brits, he said: “You can’t honestly say ‘I’m going to leave the European Union but I’m going to take with me everything I like, regardless of what that does to the European Union.’”

Finally Timmermans turned to an oracle of political wisdom — the Rolling Stones. “You can’t always get what you want,” he said, “but if you try sometimes you might get what you need.”

Lili Bayer contributed reporting.

This article has been updated.

Hardline Brexiteers, DUP to support Theresa May in confidence vote

Members of the Tory party’s Euroskeptic European Research Group will support Prime Minister Theresa May in a vote of confidence to be held this evening, the group’s deputy chairman said today.

“We are going to vote with the government in the confidence motion,” Conservative MP Steve Baker told BBC 4’s Today program. “We’re conservatives, we’re going to support the conservative government.”

On Tuesday, British MPs rejected May’s Brexit deal by a record-breaking 230 votes.

The Democratic Unionist Party, which voted against the deal, also said it will support the prime minister in the confidence vote. The party “never wanted a change of government, we wanted a change of policy,” DUP Brexit spokesman Sammy Wilson told the BBC. “Go back to the EU and make it clear this deal’s not going to work,” he added.

Baker said the ERG would vote in favor of a Brexit deal if the problem of the Irish border was resolved, adding that if May could do that, she “might even be remembered as the greatest prime minister we’ve had, even now.”

He added: “Everybody wants a deal.”

German minister says UK should be given more time on Brexit

Berlin is signaling that London should be given more time to figure out its position after the crushing rejection of Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit deal by the House of Commons.

“The first conclusion I can draw from all I have seen and witnessed is that apparently there is no majority for a no-deal Brexit,” German Economy Minister Peter Altmaier told the BBC’s Today program. “This is a very important message because it would calm down markets, it would preserve jobs on both sides of the channel.”

“I have not yet seen a clear position on how to proceed further,” Altmaier said. “The U.K. should have sufficient time to clarify its position and, if needed, the European Union should allow for additional time in order to achieve a clear position by the British parliament and people.”

Asked about a potential extension of Article 50, the minister said that “we should wait until parliament has come to the conclusions, and then we should consider what we can do. When parliament needs more time, then this is something that certainly will have be considered by the European Council. Personally, I would see this as a reasonable request.”

The European Parliament’s Brexit coordinator, Guy Verhofstadt, indicated he was open to a delay to Britain’s departure from the EU — but not beyond the European Parliament election at the end of May.

“What we will not let happen, deal or no deal, is that the mess in British politics is again imported into European politics. While we understand the UK could need more time, for us it is unthinkable that article 50 is prolonged beyond the European Elections,” he tweeted.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said it was up to the U.K. to tell the EU how it wants to proceed.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said it was not clear what the U.K. wanted | Alex Halada/AFP via Getty Images

“In terms of things #Brexit, the ball is now in the UK’s court,” the foreign minister tweeted. “It didn’t become clear yesterday what they want — just what they don’t want,” he tweeted, noting that “in Germany, we have passed two major legislative packages in order to be prepared for everything. But: We hope for reason.”

In Brussels, officials are cautious about what comes next.

The ball “has been and is still on U.K.’s side,” said one EU diplomat.

For many officials, now is the time to intensify preparations for a potential no-deal Brexit.

“I believe that it’s now up to the British government to clarify further its intentions but as the risk of a no-deal Brexit has unfortunately increased, the EU27 should also take all necessary steps to ensure that they are prepared for all eventualities as the date is approaching,” said another EU diplomat.

Some diplomats said the focus should now be on making sure the bloc’s remaining members stick together.

A third diplomat suggested the bloc should “keep calm, ensure unity among the EU27 and — if wished for — provide our British friends with the phone number of a good shrink.”

This article has been updated.


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