Brexit remains hot issue at EU summit

Thursday, 2018-09-20 11:45:23
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UK PM Theresa May talks to the media as she arrives for the informal meeting of EU leaders ahead of the EU summit, in Salzburg, Austria, September 19, 2018. (Reuters)
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NDO – The leaders of European Union (EU) countries are scheduled to meet in a two-day summit which starts on September 20, with Brexit (the United Kingdom leaving the EU) remaining a “hot” topic for discussion, as the two sides are still in a “tug of war” despite the deadline for negotiations approaching.

According to the European media, UK Prime Minister Theresa May delivered a brief speech concerning Brexit in front of the EU leaders on September 19, before the leaders of the 27 EU member nations discuss the issue on September 20. However, the UK leader had “little to say” with the EU leaders in the context that there remain disagreements over Brexit within the UK, as well as significant obstacles during the Brexit talks between the UK and the EU. On September 18, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, expressed his belief that the two sides could reach a “divorce agreement” if the integrity of the EU common market is guaranteed.

Analysts said that, up to now, the UK and the EU have significantly reduced their disagreement over the Brexit negotiations. Nonetheless, the two sides have still yet to overcome a focal point to reach a final deal, which is the issue of the border between Northern Ireland (UK) and the Republic of Ireland. Both the UK and the EU want to avoid a hard borderline between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland as such a borderline could undermine the 1998-signed peace deal, entitled “Good Friday”, which helped to terminate dozens of years of conflict. London and Brussels have not reached a consensus on monitoring the exchange of goods between the UK and the EU in this area without borders.

The European media reported that UK PM May’s proposals on the general provisions related to Brexit and the customs arrangements put forward by the UK side did not guarantee the integrity of the EU. In addition, EU diplomats also criticised the language used in the draft political statement on the UK-EU future relationship, as ambiguous and unclear. The EU’s stance still remains “resolutely uncompromising”, insisting that the UK sign up to a fallback option to the issue of Northern Ireland, aiming to ensure that there will be no hard border on the post-Brexit island of Ireland.

Meanwhile, the UK side shows no sign of going “down stairs” in the Brexit talks with the EU. The UK media quoted PM May while addressing ahead of the EU’s September 20 summit that, despite her belief in the outlook of Brexit talks meeting the deadline, she still noted that London needed to be prepared for the risk of failing to reach a “divorce agreement”. The spokesperson for the UK PM also stressed that the UK government is developing plans to help the UK succeed in every scenario. Besides, London continues to show a relatively tough stance on the issues related to Brexit. On September 18, the UK’s interior ministry announced that it would consider a report by the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC), which stated that the UK should not favour EU citizens in its immigration system after leaving the EU. Earlier, the UK’s Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab warned that the UK will not pay the financial sum committed to the EU after Brexit, if the two sides fail to reach a “divorce agreement.” He even emphasised that “it is not a threat but a statement of fact”.

The EU also continues to “threaten” the UK with warnings of a dark economic outlook if the Brexit talks fail. The Times cited EU diplomats’ statements ahead of the EU summit as warning that UK PM May needs to make significant adjustments to her “red line” on the Brexit issue. Sources of news from the UK media said that a number of veteran EU diplomats predicted that the UK would enter the “darkest moments” and almost fall into a spin of a no-deal Brexit. After that, the UK would have to abide by the EU’s requirements so that the two sides could reach a Brexit agreement. Meanwhile, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) warned that the UK economy will weaken if the UK fails to reach a Brexit deal next year. The IMF's annual report forecasts that the UK economy will grow by only 1.5% in 2018 and 2019 if the UK and EU reach a “divorce agreement”, lower than the 1.75% growth rate if the UK stays in the EU.

In the context of there being little time left for discussion and the UK-EU talks still in a “tug of war” as mentioned above, Brexit will undoubtedly continue to be a thorny issue for the EU leaders at the summit. According to analysts, failing to reach an agreement or reaching a deal at the last minute will be a “bad scenario” for both parties, as they have no time fund to implement measures in response to the negative impacts from the UK’s leaving the “European common home”.