Brexit negotiations are in an impasse after the bitter waltz of Salzburg

Half a year from the deadline of Brexit on March 29, 2019, the risk of a bitter divorce between the Uk and EU looms large after the rejection of Theresa May’s Chequers plan, considered by her 27 European Union partners “unworkable”
Brexit negotiations are in an impasse after the bitter waltz of Salzburg
An Anti-Brexit protestor waves EU and Union flags outside the Houses of Parliament in London, Britain - Photo:Simon Dawson/REUTERS
28/09/2018
16:22
Gabriel Moyssen
Mexico City
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Half a year from the deadline of Brexit on March 29, 2019, the risk of a bitter divorce between the United Kingdom and Brussels looms large after the rejection of British Prime Minister Theresa May’s Chequers plan, considered by her 27 European Union partners unworkable.”

Last week in Salzburg, Austria, one of the cradles of waltz and the birthplace of Mozart, the European summit was unanimous in its opposition to the Chequers plan, adopted by May and her cabinet in July at the cost of several resignations, including those from leading Brexiteers Boris Johnson (Foreign Office) and David Davis (Secretary of State for Exiting the EU), who compared the deal to “the status of a colony.”

This outcome was expected, since the proposal outlines a customs agreement aimed at preventing a hard border in Ireland by creating an EU-UK free trade area, with the latter abiding by a “common rule book” of European regulations for goods but no services.

However, Brussels insists that there must be no physical border in Ireland and wants the northern British province -which voted against leave in 2016- to essentially remain within the EU’s Customs Union.

European Council President Donald Tusk said during the informal summit that May’s blueprint needs to be redrawn, while French President Emanuel Macron, acting as the bloc’s most powerful leader given the weakened position of German Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel—although his own popularity —claimed that the vote to leave the EU was pushed “by those who predicted easy solutions. Those people are liars,” alluding to Johnson and his allies.

Back in 10 Downing Street, May, declared a victim of humiliation by the UK media, demanded “respect” from her counterparts and said that they are only offering two options for an economic relationship after Brexit.

One would involve the country staying in the common economic area and in a customs union.

“This would mean we would still have to abide by all the EU rules, uncontrolled immigration would continue and we could not do trade deals with other countries,” she stressed.

The second option is that Northern Ireland remains part of the trading bloc, which would mean splitting it off from the rest of the UK.

“It is something I will never agree to, indeed in my judgment it is something no British Prime Minister would ever agree to,” May added.
 

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Better than a bad deal

Describing the current state of negotiations as an “impasse,” she also noted that “no one wants a good deal more than me”, yet “I have always said no deal is better than a bad deal.”

Observers pointed out that May’s speech was an attempt to gain positions towards the Conservative Party Conference taking place next September 30 to October 3 in Birmingham, in particular after Johnson and Davis, who might challenge her leadership, endorsed a rival blueprint for a “clean break” from Brussels elaborated by the Institute of Economic Affairs.

It warned that the Chequers plan would make it impossible to reach a trade deal with the United States.

Time is running out, however, and the “moment of truth” would be in the EU summit scheduled for October 18, according to Tusk.

In a sign that the May government is coming to grips with reality, Home Secretary Sajid Javid unveiled plans which could grant limitless access to European migrants for more than two years after a no-deal Brexit.

Any EU citizen arriving between March and September 2021 would be able to live temporary in Britain as long as they show their passport and pass a criminal record check.

Such a move is necessary to protect the economy, with European migrants filling many job vacancies in crucial areas including healthcare, construction, and agriculture.

Furthermore, the Home Office, which is responsible for UK’s borders, does not have the capacity to begin processing every inbound citizen coming to the country.

In the economic front, Britain maintains its good shape, with an unemployment rate of 4% in July.

Only Germany has a low rate in the Eurozone at 3.4%, while in France, Italy, and Spain the rates are 9.1%, 10.4%, and 15.3%, highlighted the Eurobarometer survey.

Nevertheless, Brexit uncertainty is taking its toll and the CBI industrial trends survey, which gauges manufacturing activity across the UK, revealed slowing economic output for the three months to September, with company export orders the lowest since October 2017.

The same uncertainty prompted France to plan a series of measures to keep its borders open and transport with the UK running in case of a no-deal scenario.

Coinciding with Tusk, Macron wants an accord at the October summit and believes that Brexit talks must not drag into November, stressed one of the president’s aides.

In London, the remaining camp is increasing its pressure on the Labour Party, which celebrated its annual conference in Liverpool this week, for a people’s vote on the eventual deal.

The opposition leader, Jeremy Corbyn and other influential voices, seemed inclined to push for a snap election yet the delegates approved a motion saying Labour “must support all options remaining on the table, including campaigning for a public vote”.

It says that if May manages to negotiate a Brexit deal with the EU, the government “should not be afraid to put that deal to the public.”

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Editing by Sofía Danis
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