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EU pushes October Brexit agreement, threatens no deal

by kenya-tribune
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European Union
leaders will push for a Brexit deal next month but warned Prime
Minister Theresa May on Thursday that if she will not give
ground on trade and the Irish border by November they are ready
to cope with Britain crashing out.

“Don’t worry, be happy,” joked EU chief executive
Jean-Claude Juncker after telling reporters after a summit in
Austria that the Europeans had full plans in place in the event
there was no deal before Britain leaves next March.

May promised new proposals to reassure Dublin that it would
not get a “hard border” with the British province of Northern
Ireland but warned she too could live with a no-deal outcome —
though many round the summit table in picturesque Salzburg see
that as more of a negotiating tactic than a credible threat.

She said her “Chequers” proposals for trade with the EU,
intended also to resolve arguments over the borders of Northern
Ireland, were the only way forward. EU leaders repeated their
view the plans would undermine their cherished single market.

But leaders also tried to put a positive spin on their 24
hours of talks. Summit chair Donald Tusk said he was more
optimistic about getting agreements both to ease Britain out
gently and to sketch out a future free trade pact.

Tusk said a Brussels summit on Oct. 18 would be a “moment of
truth” to overcome remaining big problems and leaders pencilled
in the weekend of November 17-18 to formalise a final agreement.

But May and German Chancellor Angela Merkel were among those
who stressed there was still “a lot of work” to do.

May faces a fight with angry Conservatives at her party’s
conference in 10 days. They deride her willingness to bind
Britain into much EU regulation in return for free trade; some
would prefer a no-deal “hard Brexit” in March, despite warnings
that would ravage the British economy.

EU leaders understand that she can give little away before
the conference ends on October 3.

But they hope their negotiator,
Michel Barnier, can secure her agreement next month to what will
be new EU proposals. These will be fundamentally unchanged but
may be politically more palatable, notably on Northern Ireland.

“Ritual dance is always a part of such negotiations,” a
senior adviser to one of May’s summit peers told Reuters.

“It may be that they will just accept what we have proposed
after the Tory conference.”

MERKEL, MACRON SCEPTICAL

Whether it can be done by mid-November, many doubt. Brussels
is familiar with the theatre of diplomacy, where being seen to
hold out to the bitter end can help sell the unpopular back home
and some diplomats believe a deal could take until Christmas.

Any later, and there would be a risk of failing to get it
ratified by both parliaments before Brexit Day on March 29.

“It was clear today that we need substantial progress by
October and that we then aim to finalise everything in
November,” Merkel said. “But there is still a lot of work to do
on the question of how future trade relations will look.”

“You can’t belong to the single market if you are not part
of the single market, but you can develop a lot of creativity to
find practical, good, close solutions.”

French President Emmanuel Macron rammed home the message:
“It was a good and brave step by the prime minister,” he said of
her trade plan. “But we all agreed on this today, the proposals
in their current state are not acceptable.

“The Chequers plan cannot be ‘take it or leave it’.”

The EU also insists on a “backstop” clause in
any withdrawal treaty. This would keep Northern Ireland under EU
economic oversight if London and Brussels cannot agree a trade
pact to keep UK-EU borders open after a transition period ends
in 2020 — an idea that May and a small party in the province
that props up her minority government oppose.

“We need to ensure that nothing is done which effectively
carves Northern Ireland away from the rest of the United
Kingdom,” May told reporters after Tusk had briefed her on the
discussions the other 27 had on Brexit over lunch.

Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said there was no chance
the EU would compromise on its demands and rejected speculation
the other countries would be tempted to fudge the Irish issue
until later. But he also said he thought there would be a deal.

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