The UK at high risk of leaving the EU without a deal

Tuesday, 2019-02-26 18:02:53
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UK Prime Minster Theresa May and President of European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker hold bilateral talks during the first Arab-European Summit on February 25, 2019 in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt. (Photo: Getty)
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NDO – The Brexit talks are coming to an end with the risk of the United Kingdom (UK) leaving the “European common house” without reaching an agreement. One of the reasons for the negotiation stalemate is that the European Union (EU) has not agreed to change the deal reached by the two sides in late 2018.

In order to remove the deadlock in Brexit talks, UK Prime Minister Theresa May and some UK leaders have recently carried out continuous “shuttle diplomacy” activities to Europe in search of concessions from the bloc. However, the UK seems to have encountered a tough “steadfast wall” from the EU leaders. EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier said that negotiations on the UK’s withdrawal from the EU now require a “decision” rather than “extra time”. Barnier emphasised the aforementioned message as he answered Europe 1 radio station. “We need decisions more than we need time actually, and everyone should be responsible for this”. The head of the EU negotiating team also confirmed that now the responsibility belongs to the UK and “London needs to take the consequences from its decisions”.

The EU has repeatedly expressed its views on the Brexit negotiations. Recently, Reuters news agency cited the Spanish Foreign Ministry as saying the EU would not agree to renegotiating the Brexit agreement. This information was revealed on the occasion of the meeting between Spain’s Foreign Minister and the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator in Madrid. In addition, the latest statements by the EU leaders show that the bloc seems to be out of patience and is gradually losing belief in the prospect of achieving a Brexit deal with the UK. Addressing a recent plenary session of the European Economic and Social Committee, President of the European Commission (EC) Jean-Claude Juncker affirmed that he was not “optimistic” about the opportunity to reach an agreement concerning the UK leaving the EU. The EC leader made it clear that he could not rule out the possibility of a no-deal scenario, which would lead to negative social and economic consequences in the UK, as well as in Europe. He also warned that all the failures in reaching a Brexit agreement in sequence will be very costly. Therefore, he stressed the efforts towards how to avoid the worst case scenario.

Meanwhile, the UK is still exerting every possible effort aiming to salvage the Brexit agreement. PM Theresa May arrived in Brussels to discuss how to remove the current deadlock with EC President Jean-Claude Juncker. However, the dialogue did not produce the expected results as the two sides only reaffirmed the “backstop” clause in the Brexit agreement as being temporary. Meanwhile, UK Brexit minister Stephen Barclay stated that London will seek agreements to replace the “backstop” clause in discussions about future trade relations with the EU. This is a clause that helps maintain an open border line between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, and is the most controversial part of the new Brexit deal reached by the UK and the EU in November 2018.

Analysts said that the EU side is no longer optimistic about the prospect of Brexit negotiations because the UK is still too divided on this issue. EC President Juncker also said that if the UK conducts a vote on the Brexit deal again, there are still many MPs in the UK parliament that would vote against and only a few would vote for it. In recent days, Brexit-related disagreements have continuously stirred up UK politics. Some MPs have left the ruling party to protest the Brexit deal. Meanwhile, the UK media reported that senior UK government officials, including the secretary of state for work and pensions, justice, business, and Scotland warned that PM Theresa May must agree on a delay of Brexit, slated for this March 29, in the case of failing to reach an agreement with the EU on schedule, or she will face an “uprising” at the parliament in the vote on March 12. The UK cabinet leader had decided to delay the time of voting in the House of Representatives to March 12 instead of February 24 as initially planned, to buy more time for the UK negotiators to continue discussions with EU officials. However, the UK secretary of state for education said that delaying Brexit would not help deal with any fundamental contradictions in PM May’s Brexit agreement.

In the context of divisions inside the UK and the Brexit process facing a “hard wall” in the negotiating view of EU leaders as mentioned above, many experts stated that the UK leaving the EU without a deal is only a matter of time. This scenario can only change if the MPs who oppose Brexit in the UK parliament or the EU leaders accept to “go downstairs” in the coming days.