Thursday, 13 December, 2018

Brexit standoff continues before European Union summit

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Kenny Thornton | 17 October, 2018, 13:26

Speaking after being briefed by the EU's chief negotiator Michel Barnier, Mr Tusk played down expectations of a breakthrough.

Leaders of the EU27 will discuss how to step up preparations for a no-deal Brexit next March at their working dinner in Mrs May's absence, following her presentation, he said.

"We need to know what the proposal is they're falling out about", shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer told Sky News.

Citing a German government document, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper reported late on Tuesday that the European Commission had offered to allow Britain - "in a good will gesture" - to remain in the EU customs union and internal market beyond an agreed transitional arrangement until the end of December 2020.

Brexit talks are on a knife-edge, with British Prime Minister Theresa May set to make a pitch to European Union leaders in Brussels on Wednesday at a summit billed as the last chance to agree a draft deal in time for Brexit day on March 29.

Jeremy Hunt last night warned Boris Johnson and Cabinet Brexiteers they must back Theresa May "to the hilt", as ministers were told of a potential £30billion "no deal" divorce bill.

Member states demand the backstop remain in place permanently to ensure Brexit doesn't result in a hard border on the island of Ireland.

Britain insists such a solution can not be permanent, while the European Union says just as strongly that it must not have an end date.

Her official spokesman later told reporters: "The Cabinet strongly supported her on the importance of maintaining the integrity of the Union and agreed that we must ensure we can not be kept in a backstop arrangement indefinitely".

"We need to be able to look the British people in the eye and say the backstop is a temporary solution", her spokesman said on Monday. He added the Irish border problem is "more hard to solve than Gibraltar".

Prince Harry and Meghan begin tour of drought-stricken Dubbo
The couple will also travel to New Zealand, Fiji and Tonga on their first global since marrying. They will be in Melbourne on Thursday.

But she emerged from Tuesday's cabinet meeting looking relatively safe, at least for now, with the Cabinet backing her proposals in a two-and-a-half hour meeting - despite earlier threats to walk from a number of ministers.

International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt told Sky News: "No-one is planning on resigning".

"We sometimes feel the British are negotiating with the British", Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders said, illustrating the EU's frustration.

Spain's Josep Borrell confirmed that ministers were disappointed a draft deal was not possible over the weekend, but added: "We don't have to dramatise, we still have time".

"In the end we will find a way to deal with the United Kingdom", he told reporters after meeting Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte in The Hague.

Mr Roth made clear that Germany is alive to the problems Mrs May could face in getting any deal through Parliament, telling reporters: "I have the impression that it is hard to secure the appropriate parliamentary majority in Great Britain".

"Nobody wants to ever trigger the backstop, but it needs to be there as an insurance mechanism to calm nerves that we're not going to see physical border infrastructure re-emerging".

Germany's Europe minister called on May to "take responsibility and be constructive".

Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney admitted to being "frustrated" by the delay, saying that apart from Britain, Ireland is the country with most to lose from Brexit.

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