May, Juncker hold ‘robust’ Brexit meet, agree new talks


Feb 8, 2019-

Britain and the EU agreed Thursday to hold more talks to try to avoid a no-deal Brexit, after a “robust” meeting between Prime Minister Theresa May and European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker.

A joint statement issued after the talks in Brussels said Juncker had again warned that November’s withdrawal agreement could not be renegotiated—after May came hoping to persuade Brussels to agree on the need to change the so-called “backstop” clause for the Irish border.

But Juncker “expressed his openness to add wording” to a parallel political declaration laying out ambitions for future EU-UK ties if London wants to seek a “more ambitious” closer relationship after Brexit.

In a sharp reminder of the urgency of finding a solution before Brexit day on March 29, Bank of England governor Mark Carney warned that Britain’s economy was “not yet prepared” for a no-deal departure.

May came hoping to change the backstop so that Britain cannot be “trapped” in the bloc against its will—and by doing so win over enough MPs at home to get the deal through parliament.

She reminded Juncker that the British parliament had mandated her to seek “a legally binding change to the terms of the backstop”, but instead was offered a fresh round of talks. EU negotiator Michel Barnier will now meet British Brexit Minister Stephen Barclay in Strasbourg on Monday. May herself will meet Juncker again before the end of February, a commission spokesman said.

A stony-faced May shook hands stiffly with Juncker as she arrived at commission headquarters, refusing to answer questions, but she was expected to make a statement later Thursday.

Expectations for the visit were already modest when, on Wednesday, EU kingpins Donald Tusk and Juncker torched May’s prospects of winning changes to the withdrawal agreement.

Juncker told reporters May already knows and accepts that the Union will not reopen talks on the deal, while Tusk, who represents EU member governments as head of the European Council, triggered outrage across the Channel by damning pro-Brexit politicians for—in his view—recklessly failing to plan.

“I’ve been wondering what that special place in hell looks like, for those who promoted Brexit without even a sketch of a plan how to carry it out safely,” Tusk said.

But even this latest demonstration of EU unity did not deter Downing Street, which insisted May’s top priority on the trip was to “find a way to guarantee we cannot, and will not, be trapped in the backstop”. Number 10 said that because the British parliament rejected the deal, May must seek material changes to the accord or see it fail.

The impasse in Brussels has deepened fears that Britain could crash out of the EU without a deal on March 29, disrupting trade and supplies to manufacturing.

Published: 08-02-2019 13:05

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