Britain and EU reach Brexit divorce deal breakthrough
Friday - 08/12/2017 20:04
THERESA May has clinched a Brexit agreement with Brussels but has been blasted by hardliners at home for making compromises.
BRITISH Prime Minister Theresa May has scored a key success in clinching a Brexit agreement with Brussels but faces an immediate backlash from hardliners at home for making compromises.
“It’s not Brexit,” Nigel Farage, the former leader of the UK Independence Party and a major driving force behind last year’s Brexit referendum, told BBC radio.
“A deal in Brussels is good news for Mrs May as we can now move on to the next stage of humiliation,” he said on Twitter.
Boxed in by rival pro-Brexit and pro-EU factions within her own Conservative party, May has been at risk of being toppled ever since a general election in June in which she lost her majority.
The Sun earlier this week even reported a plot to oust her before Christmas and install her Brexit Secretary David Davis as prime minister.
While that threat may have receded for now, it has not gone away and May faces an uphill struggle getting parliamentary backing for the deal.
Campaign group Leave.EU issued a scathing reaction to Friday’s deal, saying that “our lily-livered politicians have sold the country down the river”.
It called the agreement a “complete capitulation”.
Government ministers, however, lined up to congratulate May with her deputy Damian Green saying it was a “big successful moment” for her.
Environment Secretary Michael Gove, a top Brexit campaigner who ran against May in a party leadership race last year, said the preliminary agreement was a “significant personal, political achievement”.
Conservative MP Anna Soubry, a leading pro-EU advocate, gave the deal a “warm welcome” and hoped it would heal the “dreadful Brexit divide”.
May was on the brink of sealing a deal in Brussels on Monday but the bid was scuppered by Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party, whose 10 MPs prop up the government on key votes in parliament.
DUP leader Arlene Foster offered only grudging support to May on Friday, saying that aspects of the agreement could require further examination.
The reactions in the politically-influential rightwing press were also less than glowing.
The Sun’s political editor Tom Newton Dunn said the deal was “a coup for May” but “this was supposed to be the easy bit and it took nine long and painful months.”
The historic deal was reached after Ms May rushed to Brussels for early morning talks.
The European Commission said it “recommends sufficient progress” had been made by Britain on separation issues including the Irish border, Britain’s divorce bill, and citizens rights.
The agreement paves the way for EU leaders at a summit on December 14-15 to open the second phase of Brexit negotiations, covering trade talks and a transition period.
Britain voted in June 2016 to become the first state to leave the EU, after more than four decades of membership, but the talks have been slow moving and often acrimonious so far.
“The Commission is satisfied that sufficient progress has been achieved in each of the three priority areas,” the European Commission said in a statement.
Negotiators worked through the night to seal an agreement on the terms of Britain’s departure from the bloc.
The EU had set a deadline of Sunday after the last talks on Monday broke down when May’s Northern Irish allies objected to terms for future arrangements for the Irish border.
Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker’s chief of staff Martin Selmayr tweeted a picture of white smoke -- the sign used by the Vatican to signify the election of a new pope -- shortly after May’s arrival.
Juncker spoke first with Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar then with May on Thursday night in a bid to break a deadlock over the wording of a deal on future arrangements for the Irish border.
May posed briefly for a handshake with Juncker on her arrival at the European Commission’s Berlaymont headquarters, before Juncker led her inside with a hand on her shoulder.
In the corridor before the official handshake, Britain’s chief Brexit negotiator David Davis greeted Juncker with a hug.
EU President Donald Tusk warned that talks on a post-Brexit trade deal and transition period would be even more difficult than a hard-won deal on divorce terms that was sealed on Friday.
“Let us remember that the most difficult challenge is still ahead. We all know that breaking up is hard but breaking up and building a new relation is much harder,” Tusk said
Juncker spoke first with Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar then May on Thursday night in a bid to break a deadlock over the wording of a deal on future arrangements for the Irish border.
The EU insists on making sufficient progress on the Irish border, on Britain’s divorce bill, and on the rights of European citizens in Britain before unlocking the second phase of negotiations.
Those would deal with a transition period for around two years after Britain leaves the bloc on March 29, 2019, and a future EU-UK trade deal.
But talks between May and Juncker in Brussels on Monday broke up without a deal after the pro-British DUP party in Northern Ireland that props up the British leader’s government objected to a clause in the deal.
The wording had said that British-ruled Northern Ireland would be in “alignment” with EU rules to avoid a hard border with the Republic of Ireland, as Dublin insists.
Senior DUP politician Jeffrey Donaldson had said late Thursday that “discussions are ongoing”.
The European Commission had earlier Thursday set a deadline of Sunday for May to reach a deal on divorce terms so they can be approved by member states in time for the summit.
‘Totally and utterly incompetent’
Earlier Thursday, Schinas dismissed British newspaper reports that the Sunday deadline could be extended into next week as “not correct”.
Scotland’s nationalist leader showed little patience, accusing the British government of being “totally and utterly incompetent” on Brexit.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said “the real lesson” of the past week was that Scotland “will always be at the mercy of reckless decisions taken by Tory governments at Westminster” unless it becomes independent.
“The sooner we are in control over our own future here in Scotland the better, and this week has proved it,” she added.
Eurogroup chief Jeroen Dijsselbloem offered some calming words, saying Britain’s City of London financial hub “will not fall apart” after Brexit even if it loses the right to allow banks to trade freely across the bloc.
Dijsselbloem, the Netherlands finance minister who chairs meetings of his counterparts in the 19-country eurozone, said that some businesses would nevertheless have to relocate.
“I don’t believe that the City will fall apart and that everyone will flee. I don’t think that’s how it’s going to work,” he told a European Parliament committee.
His reassurances come at a time when Britain’s finance sector is anxious about losing the “passporting” rights which allow large international banks to trade throughout the EU while being based in Britain.