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'Nothing is agreed': 50 days remaining before Brexit

Clock ticking down to March 29, all sides await outcome of Theresa May's last-ditch Brussels trip in search of new deal

  | 07.02.2019
'Nothing is agreed': 50 days remaining before Brexit

By Ahmet Gurhan Kartal

LONDON

“Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed!”

This was probably an overused quip among all the other Brexit jargon during the divorce negotiations, as both the U.K. and the EU tried to hold their cards close to the chest.

But now, a mere 50 days until the Brexit deadline, set to transform the U.K. into a non-EU country on March 29, nothing has been agreed on, despite a seemingly endless parade of discussions, negotiations, and joint declarations.

Should any other EU member state have taken up exit negotiations, they would probably have been over by now, with a straightforward deal long since signed.

However, a unique border issue has so far played a huge but negative part in all stages of the divorce talks between the U.K. and the EU.

The 499-kilometer (310 mi.) border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland will become the only land border between the U.K. and the bloc as of March 29 – given that the U.K. will not ask for an extension on the exit date, as indicated by Prime Minister Theresa May.

A special clause in the withdrawal agreement reached by May and EU officials, namely the backstop, aimed to provide a sense of insurance to the seamless border continuing after Brexit, but it faces objections from a majority of MPs and Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), the partners of May’s government.

May has 50 more days until the Brexit date, but she desperately needs wider support in the House of Commons for her Plan B strategy – or, in actuality, Plan A minus the backstop.

May has promised “alternative arrangements” that would replace the backstop, but the EU have maintained the deal was done around the red lines set by the British government and will not be renegotiated.

As the British premier travels to Brussels on Thursday to speak with EU negotiators about her still-to-be-revealed alternative arrangements, there seems to be little hope that the EU will make any concessions on what they have already agreed.

‘Special place in hell’

May’s visit comes a day after the European Council President Donald Tusk stepped into a hornet’s nest by wondering aloud “what a special place in hell looks like for those who promoted Brexit” without a proper plan.

Tusk’s remarks at a press conference in Brussels set off an immediate war of words.

“It’s a question for Donald Tusk as to whether he considers the use of that sort of language to be helpful,” Theresa May’s spokesman said of the colorful remarks.

“People voted to leave the European Union, and what everybody should be focused upon now is delivering the verdict of the British people, so we can leave the EU in an orderly way, and with a deal that is in the best interests of the UK and the EU,” he added.

Tusk naturally received more condemnation from Brexiteers but support from those in British politics of a similar mind.

So what does everyone want?

Conservative Party: MPs are divided over May’s Brexit strategy, and it would be hard to get all the votes needed for Plan B as long as the backstop remains in the withdrawal agreement.

DUP: Northern Ireland’s biggest unionist party – whose support for the government is crucial – has rejected the backstop and won’t support any deal with that clause still in it.

Labour Party: The main opposition party has demanded a soft Brexit, one including a UK-wide customs union and a sort of alignment with the single market. Party leader Jeremy Corbyn underlined what type of a Brexit they want in a letter to May on Thursday, mentioning “dynamic alignment on rights and protections,” “commitments on future UK participation in EU agencies and funding programmes,” and “unambiguous agreements on future security arrangements.”

SNP: The Scottish National Party demands full access to the single market, as they have said Brexit will damage business and trade in Scotland. It has accused May of not negotiating for Scottish people’s interests. Party leader Nicola Sturgeon has adopted a “wait and see” policy on the final Brexit situation possibly triggering a second Scottish independence referendum.

Ireland: The Irish approach to Brexit is in line with the other EU member states. Prime Minister Leo Varadkar has said they would not take a back step from the already reached deal and a guarantee on continuing the borderless island.

When is the next meaningful vote?

May is expected to bring back the new deal, which many think will be the same rejected deal with no substantial changes as the EU is unwilling to make any concessions over the backstop clause.

A new vote on the new deal – if there is one – is expected next week in the House of Commons. Will it include May’s “alternative arrangements” to ensure the continuation of the soft border between Northern Ireland and Ireland? Will there be a breakthrough on the deadlock over the backstop? Will May get enough votes to ensure a Brexit deal? These are the main questions to be answered in the days to come.

So, with the clock ticking loudly, just 50 days left until the U.K.’s exit, “nothing has been agreed” between the U.K. and the EU, and whether “everything” will be agreed or instead Britain will crash out is still to be seen.

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