Window for a Brexit deal: Brussels to think again May’s proposal

British Prime Minister Theresa May attended the EU Council in Salzburg, Austria. (10 Downing Street photo, some rights reserved).

This is the first time the British Prime Minister Theresa May can tell mainland Europeans, she can guarantee her Tory conservative Party won’t topple her over her Brexit proposal. The reason is that, last week, she marked a triumph at the annual conference of the governing Party at Birmingham. Obviously, the burning subject of the conference was May’s proposal for Brexit. She delivered a perfect speech and had something for everybody and promised the end of austerity.

The likes of Boris Johnson, the sworn hard Brexiteers, didn’t manage to even distantly threaten her position at the helms of Party and government. As for an early election option, the possibility of Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party winning, has chased away such thoughts in the Tories. In any case, there are polls indicating May can beat Corbyn, while Johnson can’t.

May’s Birmingham triumph

In view of all that, only one Tory MP publicly signed a petition to question May as leader of the Tories. According to the Party’s statutes, 15% of the deputies, that is, at least 48 MPs, have to challenge the President in writing and thus trigger a Party electoral procedure to change leadership. So, despite the rumors that many Brexiteer Tory MPs are questioning May’s leadership and Brexit plan, only one dared to do that in writing last week. As a result, the atypical head of the faction questioning May’s Brexit proposal and leadership, ex Foreign Minister Boris Johnson, was more or less silenced.

Sticking to her Brexit

The main points of the Brexit plan which the British PM is to propose to mainland Europeans, are very simple. In order to honor the pledge of no hard border being enacted in Ireland, the entire United Kingdom is to remain in EU’s Customs Union and internal market.

In this way, the Republic of Ireland, a part of the EU, and Northern Ireland, an integral part of UK, will continue communicating on their tormented island completely unimpeded and unchecked as they do today. If the rest of UK isn’t to continue participating in EU’s Customs Union after Brexit, there will need to be borders separating the two parts of the island, the Eire and Northern Ireland.

No borders on Ireland

In such an eventuality, the principle to avoid enacting borders on the island, will prompt the installation of quasi ‘border’ checks and controls, in the movements between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK. But no 10 Downing Street occupant could accept that, being tantamount to breaking the UK in two.

So, in order for Ireland to continue being a peaceful place, the Holy Friday Agreement which put an end to the civil slaughter there, has to be served and no hard borders must return on the island. Everybody agrees now there is no other way to effectively do that than May’s way; that is, the whole of the UK remaining in EU’s Customs Union and the trade in goods continuing freely as today.

What about movements of people and services though? May’s proposal foresees an end to the free movement of EU citizens going in and out of Britain. It also excludes free exchanges in the services sector. In this way, May practically blocks London’s City – that golden square mile – from continuing to unimpeded offer financial services all over the EU, as it does today. Currently the City ‘produces’ more than one tenth of UK’s GDP.

Who cares about the City?

Nevertheless, too few Brits take advantage of that money cornucopia. The vast majority of Britons have nothing to do with London’s money games. The City practically operates as if it was based anywhere in the world. Provincial Britain is equally distanced from London’s City, as it is geographically apart from New York’s Manhattan. That’s why May doesn’t pay much attention to the needs of the City.

Brussels don’t seem to care much about the future of the City either. It’s not the same with the free movement of people and the application of the rules of the Customs Union. For one thing, May insists on ending the free movement of EU citizens in and out of the UK soon.

Her other stipulation that Britain should be able to conclude own trade deals, doesn’t easily make sense in Brussels with full participation in the Customs Union. Both those two requests were outright rejected by the 27 European heads of state and government at the latest EU Summit in Salzburg.

The final offer

At that time, however, it was not at all certain if May’s proposal was the final UK offer. There were uncertainties also on both her position in 10 Downing Street and on the main points of her Brexit plan. On all those accounts there now seem to be certainties. London asserts that there won’t be other proposals and May solemnly does not exclude a no-deal divorce.

In view of that, sources in Brussels signal that the discussion of May’s Brexit offer must seriously intensify. This line of thinking was strengthened by the top EU official. Last Saturday Jean-Claude Juncker, the President of the EU Commission said “the chance of the UK and the EU reaching a deal has increased in the last few days and could be agreed by November.” On top of that, Reuters reported from Brussels “The European Union’s Brexit negotiators told national diplomats in Brussels late on Thursday that a divorce deal with Britain was “very close”, according to two sources present at the meeting”.

Away from Salzburg

It remains to be seen if those developments echo a change in the inflexible stance towards May’s Brexit from Paris and Berlin as shown in Salzburg last month. Both the French President Emmanuel Macron and the German Chancellor Angela Merkel were quite negative about May’s rather soft divorce proposal.

Minutes after that EU Summit, May left the beautiful Austrian city in a furious state. She returned to London and from 10 Downing Street she stated that a no-deal Brexit was not ruled out. Things seem to gradually changing now mainly in Brussels, where more flexibility seems to prevail.

 

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