Thu, Mar 01, 2018 - Page 1 News List

EU unveils Brexit draft text, heaping pressure on May


British Deputy Superintendent Registrar Dion Goncalves moves a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II into position ahead of a citizenship ceremony at Islington Town Hall in London on Feb. 5.

Photo: AFP

Concerned that time is running out, the EU yesterday moved to force Britain’s hand in Brexit negotiations by publishing a draft text that provocatively distills into legal language what they have — and even what they have not — agreed so far.

Britain officially leaves the EU on March 29 next year, but Brexit talks must conclude this autumn so that parliaments have time to ratify the final agreement.

The text summarizes all aspects of the talks so far, but takes a tough line on issues where British input is lacking.

“If we want to succeed in these negotiations — and I want to succeed — we must accelerate,” European Chief Negotiator for the UK Exiting the EU Michel Barnier said as he unveiled the document. “In 13 months, the UK will no longer be a member of the European Union. That’s what it wanted.”

While rumors about the document’s content have already angered some on the other side of the English Channel, Barnier told reporters that “this draft text contains no surprises for our British friends.”

EU leaders have been pushing British Prime Minister Theresa May to provide more details about how she sees the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland operating, how long a transition period should last to help ease Britain out from next year and to explain her government’s vision of their future relations.

However, they have been frustrated by the lack of feedback, with negotiations essentially at the halfway mark.

By far the most contentious section of the 120-page text concerns the transit of goods, services and people across the border between EU member state Ireland and Northern Ireland, which is part of the UK.

Britain and the EU in December last year agreed that the all-but-invisible border would remain open after Brexit, but they left it unclear how that would happen in practice.

Lacking “agreed solutions” so far, the EU draft suggests that Northern Ireland would remain within the bloc’s customs union, essentially creating a border in the Irish Sea between Britain and its own territory where customs checks would have to be carried out.

Another point likely to rile London is the transition period aimed at avoiding any policy cliff edge that would upset businesses, trade and markets. The text states that it will end on Dec. 31, 2020, a practical deadline as the EU’s current long-term budget, to which Britain contributes, expires then.

May’s government is seeking more time, but because it has suggested no other date and because legally the period cannot remain open-ended, the EU’s preferred date is the one being used.

Beyond that, EU leaders want to endorse a set of guidelines at their next summit from March 22 to March 23 for negotiating the shape of future relations.

EU Council President Donald Tusk on Friday last week said that the EU would do that in three weeks “whether the UK is ready with its vision of our future relations or not.”

Adding to the pressure, Tusk is to hold talks with May today, on the eve of a major speech she plans to give that officials say will set out her government’s vision of future relations with the EU.

A new round of talks is scheduled for next week, as are EU talks on the guidelines for negotiations concerning future ties.

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