Thursday, May 13, 2021

British, EU negotiators take new stab at Brexit impasse


tiamin rice

British Brexit Secretary, Stephen Barclay and Attorney-General Geoffrey Cox are due in Brussels later Tuesday for more talks with EU negotiator Michel Barnier aimed at securing domestic support for Britain’s EU divorce deal.

British Prime Minister, Theresa May, is looking for guarantees to win over parliament ahead of a second vote on the withdrawal agreement, due by March 12, after it roundly rejected the text initially agreed with Brussels.

Objections centre on the so-called “backstop’’ provisions aimed at maintaining an open border on the island of Ireland, amid fears that these could lock Britain into a close relationship with the EU that it cannot unilaterally end.

British and EU negotiators are now looking for guarantees that would allow Cox to change his earlier assessment that Britain could be locked “indefinitely” into the backstop.

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The EU says it is prepared to offer assurances and clarifications, but has refused to change the nature of the backstop – an insurance policy designed only to take effect if the two sides fail to strike a trade deal in time.

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Earlier Tuesday, British Foreign Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, said the signals from the EU were “reasonably positive,” although there was “still a lot of work to do,” in comments to the BBC public broadcaster.

“We need substantive changes that would allow the attorney-general to change his advice to the government. And I think the EU understands that we need that change,’’ Hunt said.

Britain is due to leave the EU on March 29, although an extension is looking increasingly likely.

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Also, Scottish National Party leader, Nicola Sturgeon said Scotland “could choose a different path” as Britain prepares to leave the EU, ahead of a vote on Brexit in Scotland’s devolved parliament on Tuesday.

The Scottish parliament and a devolved Welsh assembly would hold simultaneous votes on declaring their “opposition to the damaging EU exit deal” agreed by Prime Minister for Britain to leave the bloc on March 29.

In an SNP statement, Sturgeon, who also heads the Scottish government, said recent legislation passed under devolved powers “shows how Scotland can choose a different path and create a more equal and prosperous country, with fairness at its core.”

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“Imagine what more we could do if we held the full range of powers of independent parliaments,” she said.

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Tuesday’s votes in Scotland and Wales create “an unprecedented event,” said Mike Russell, the Scottish government’s constitutional relations secretary.

“We are taking this historic step to send a strong message to the UK government that it must stop pursuing such a disastrous course of action,” Russell said.

“The prime minister’s deal will cause major, lasting damage to jobs, living standards and public services such as the NHS, and should be voted down,” he said.

Russell said his government supports extending the Brexit negotiations beyond March 29 to “allow time for agreement to be reached on a better way forward, which the Scottish government believes should be a second EU referendum with Remain on the ballot paper.”


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