British PM May takes demand for Brexit renegotiation to Brussels
Reuters: Prime Minister Theresa May was in Brussels on Thursday to plead with EU leaders to change the Brexit divorce deal she negotiated last year, in order to get it through parliament, after they offered little hope they were willing to do so.
A cool handshake for the cameras with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker did little to conceal the tension, just 50 days before Britain could leave the European Union without measures in place to keep trade flowing freely.
Neither spoke, with one reporter shouting to the retreating leaders: “Is this hell, prime minister?” EU summit chair Donald Tusk said on Wednesday that Brexit promoters deserved “a special place in hell” – a blunt display of frustration in Brussels that drew condemnation from many in Britain.
The London parliament, which rejected May’s agreement by the biggest majority in modern British history, has voted to renegotiate the deal, replacing a provision that some fear could keep British-ruled Northern Ireland under EU rules indefinitely.
EU leaders have repeatedly said it would be impossible to replace the provision, known as the “backstop”, because it is required to ensure no hard border, once a focus for sectarian violence, between Northern Ireland and EU-member Ireland.
Unless parliament approves a deal, Britain is on course to leave the EU on March 29 with no transition arrangement in place, a scenario that many businesses say would be catastrophic for the economy. Other options could include delaying Brexit, holding a new referendum or cancelling it altogether.
May will return to parliament next week for a debate on the Brexit negotiations when lawmakers could again try to wrest control of the process from her, but a crunch vote on approving the Brexit deal is likely to come later in the month.
Both May’s Conservative Party and the main opposition Labour Party are formally committed to carrying out Brexit following a 2016 referendum in which voters chose to leave the EU by a margin of 52-48 percent. But both parties are deeply divided internally over how or even whether to do so.
In a letter to May released on Wednesday, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn set out five conditions for Labour to support a deal. Those include a “permanent and comprehensive” customs union with the bloc, which May has ruled out.
Corbyn also demanded a close alignment with the single market, “unambiguous agreements” on future security arrangements and commitments on UK participation in EU agencies and funding programmes.