Mon, May 15, 2017 - Page 5 News List

Britain, EU are still partying together after breakup

NY Times News Service

Few couples would celebrate their wedding anniversary after one of them had filed for divorce, but that is just what the British embassy in Washington did on Saturday by holding a party to celebrate EU Day.

Thousands came through the ambassador’s residence and gardens in an annual tradition that has become one of the US captial’s signature spring events, with all 28 embassies of the EU opening their doors.

Britain’s continued participation was a surprise to some, since British voters narrowly decided in a referendum last year to leave the EU.

British Prime Minister Theresa May formally requested the split in March, and since then, the parting has become increasingly acrimonious.

European officials have demanded that Britain pay a steep exit penalty of more than US$118 billion, and May has lashed out at European officials for what she called threats against Britain and efforts to meddle in coming national elections.

Nonetheless, the British embassy festooned itself with bunting and announced that its wrought-iron gates would be thrown open as part of a celebration of its doomed marriage.

“It doesn’t feel awkward to me,” British Ambassador to the US Kim Darroch said while standing in his residence’s vast library as an unending line of tourists wandered nearby, adding that Britain was still part of the EU.

Most analysts predict the divorce process is to take at least two years and, given the increasing acrimony, perhaps far longer.

Darroch pushed such gloomy predictions away.

“We don’t want a hard divorce, an unfriendly divorce, ending up in the courts,” he said. “We want to end up, as the prime minister has said, with — and I’ll quote her here — a deep and special relationship with the European Union with, at its center, a free-trade relationship.”

It is a wish European officials have branded as delusional. British leaders are hoping to maintain the country’s easy access to European markets while severely restricting immigration from European countries, a deal that European leaders have flatly rejected.

However, hope for a beneficial pact might be one reason that Britain decided to participate in Saturday’s party.

The embassy parked a fleet of British luxury cars made by companies owned since 2008 by Tata Motors of India. British police officers, in their signature helmets, were also on the grounds, as were actors in Shakespearean garb.

Eduardo Ferrero of Springfield, Virginia, said he was surprised that the British had participated, and he, his wife and two daughters said they had made a point of visiting the embassy this year because of uncertainty about whether the British would do so again next year.

Yasmin Iacampo, Ferrero’s wife, said she hoped the British would stay in the EU.

“They have two years to change their minds,” she said.

The embassy used the event this year to promote British tourism, noting that this year is the 20th anniversary of the publication of the first Harry Potter book and the 200th anniversary of the death of Jane Austen.

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