Countdown to Brexit: 6 days – Europe prepares for no-deal Brexit as leaders are sceptical about any further delay

We reported yesterday that Prime Minister, Theresa May, had written the European Council ahead of their emergency meeting to be held in Brussels on Wednesday, asking for a delay of Brexit with a latest end-date of June 30.  As justification for the request she re-stated her confidence that she can win approval for the Withdrawal Agreement as negotiated in the coming days - which would allow Britain to exit the EU sooner than that.  In any event she says that the UK will not take part in the European Parliament elections scheduled for 23-26 May.

European President, Donald Tusk doesn’t believe this is feasible.  He will chair the European Council summit, and has independently proposed a much longer Brexit postponement - of up to a year according to European Commission officials.

Any extension will require unanimous approval of the other 27 EU countries and some - according to Reuters – are suggesting that they wanted a ‘better justification’ from London for its request.

We publish the text of the letter in full, below.  You can judge for yourself if you believe it meets the EU criteria summarised by European Commission President, Jean-Claude Juncker -  in order to avoid a no-deal, the UK must be ‘in a position to approve the Withdrawal Agreement with a sustainable majority by 12 April’ - in which case, the European Union may be prepared to accept a delay until 22 May.”

The very act of asking for an extension to 30 June has been seen as contemptuous by some in Europe – hardly a good start when they hold the future of the UK in their gift.

French Finance Minister, Bruno la Maire dismissed the justification in Theresa May’s letter as inadequate: “If we are not able to understand the reason why the UK is asking for an extension, we cannot give a positive answer” - as has Netherlands Prime Minister: “Theresa May’s letter raises many questions, which need to be discussed,” he told reporters. “We hope for more clarity from London before next Wednesday.”

It’s the same story from press releases coming after an EU Ambassadors’ meeting on Brexit; and from the G7 meeting in Bucharest.

UK Foreign Minister, Jeremy Hunt was asked by reporters why - given the “chaos of Brexit, should anyone pay attention at a time when your country is struggling to run itself.” 

We previously reported the Parliamentary report concluding that the UK will need to increase its diplomatic staff across Europe and the World when it is a ‘stand-alone’ nation and unrepresented as an integral part of a 28 -county bloc.

Hunt’s riposte on the sidelines of yesterday’s G7 summit: “Be in no doubt the United Kingdom will continue to play a leading role championing democratic values around the world - that’s what we’ve always done and that’s what we always will do.”

Britain is struggling to gear up for brokering broker new trade – with 20 nations objecting to the WTO application for ‘favoured nation’ status for trade in goods – and the civil service almost missing the deadline to apply to the WTO for membership to trade in services.

A no-deal Brexit will leave a vacuum.  According to Hunt, the Government in London plans to hire nearly 1,000 more diplomatic staff, open new embassies and boost language training - just as allies and close EU partners France and Germany are working ever more closely together, creating joint embassies and cutting diplomacy budgets.

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France and Germany are increasingly on the same wavelength ‘with some small differences’, whilst Britain is ‘dominated by internal questions’.  Last week in New York, French and German Foreign Ministers announced a ‘Multilateralism Alliance’ as Paris handed over the Presidency of the United Nations Security Council to Berlin.  The UK was excluded.

The Guardian reports the ‘big issue’ for an EU Ambassadors’ at a meeting, held yesterday on Brexit, was how to make sure the UK "plays nice" during a long Brexit extension - or “how can we make sure the UK doesn’t pull a Jacob Rees-Mogg?”

They were referring to a Rees-Mogg Tweet: "If a long extension leaves us stuck in the EU we should be as difficult as possible. We could veto any increase in the budget, obstruct the putative EU army and block Mr Macron’s integrationist schemes."

Meanwhile in Brussels, Vice-President of the European Commission, Jyrki Katainen - responsible for Jobs, Growth, Investment and Competitiveness, and the Health & Food Safety portfolio, said: “Health and food safety are two areas which have an immense impact on citizens' daily life, but also on the functioning of countless operators and businesses.  This is why the Commission and the EU-27 have been working extensively for the past two years to face the challenge of a no-deal scenario.  My message is simple - the EU and the Member States are ready to manage: safety and availability of medicines in the EU.”

European Commissioner for Transport, Violeta Bulc, yesterday presented the EU's contingency and preparedness measures in the transport sector given the increasing risk of the UK leaving the EU without a deal.  These measures have been agreed by Member States and the European Parliament and aim at limiting the most significant disruptions caused by a possible ‘no-deal’ scenario:

  • The measures on air, road and rail transport allow for the continuation of safe basic connectivity between the EU and the UK for a limited period of time – conditional on the UK maintaining an adequate level of safety standards and grating reciprocal treatment to EU companies and operators;

  • There is a newly established EU maritime corridor between Ireland, France, Belgium and the Netherlands;

  • There is new funding to adapt transport infrastructure, security and external border checks;

  • There is a revision of the Regulation on ship inspection and survey organisations, aiming to ensure legal certainty and to secure business continuity in shipping;

  • Pets will still be allowed to travel - but the conditions will change since new controls will have to be carried out at the EU's borders with the UK.

Background: Theresa May’s letter of 5 May to the European Council

"Dear Donald

In the European Council Decision of 22 March, taken in agreement with the United Kingdom, the European Union and the United Kingdom agreed that if the House of Commons had approved the Withdrawal Agreement by 29 March 2019, the period provided for by Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union would be extended until 22 May 2019 to provide for ratification. The House of Commons declined to approve the Withdrawal Agreement and take up that option. Therefore unless we agree a further extension at the European Council you have convened for 10 April, the United Kingdom will leave the European Union without a deal at 2300 BST on 12 April 2019.

The Government’s policy has always been and remains to leave the European Union in an orderly way, and without undue delay. The House of Commons has not thus far approved the deal that would enable this, nor — despite considerable efforts by both Members of Parliament and by the Government — has it yet found a majority in favour of any other proposal. The House has, however, continued to express its opposition to leaving the European Union without a deal. The Government agrees that leaving with a deal is the best outcome.

This impasse cannot be allowed to continue. In the UK it is creating uncertainty and doing damage to faith in politics, while the European Union has a legitimate desire to move on to decisions about its own future. That is why the Government has decided to take further action to seek a consensus across the House of Commons on the right way forward.

I therefore met the Leader of the Opposition earlier this week to discuss whether we might be able to agree a proposal that can be put before the House of Commons which allows the United Kingdom to leave the European Union with a deal. We agreed follow-up discussions that are now taking place. I have also extended an open invitation to Members of Parliament more broadly to work with me to achieve a consensus that respects the result of the 2016 referendum. I am clear that all of these discussions need to be based on acceptance of the Withdrawal Agreement without reopening it, as the United Kingdom agreed with the European Council at our last meeting, and should focus on the framework for the future relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union. If a consensus is going to be found, compromise will be needed on all sides, in the national interest.

If the talks do not lead to a single unified approach soon, the Government would instead look to establish a consensus on a small number of clear options on the future relationship that could be put to the House in a series of votes to determine which course to pursue. The Government stands ready to abide by the decision of the House, if the Opposition will commit to doing the same.

These steps demonstrate that the Government is determined to bring this process to a resolution quickly. The Government acknowledges, however, that after approval to the Withdrawal Agreement is achieved, the process of enacting those commitments in domestic law and therefore ratifying the Agreement in the United Kingdom will take time. Therefore having reluctantly sought an extension to the Article 50 period last month, the Government must now do so again.

It remains the Government’s view that, despite this request to extend the Article 50 period, it is in the interests of neither the United Kingdom as a departing Member State, nor the European Union as a whole, that the United Kingdom holds elections to the European Parliament. However, the United Kingdom accepts the European Council’s view that if the United Kingdom were still a Member State of the European Union on 23 May 2019, it would be under a legal obligation to hold the elections. The Government is therefore undertaking the lawful and responsible preparations for this contingency, including by making the Order that sets the date of the poll.

The process I have laid out in paragraphs 4 and 5 is designed to bring the House of Commons to rapid approval of the Withdrawal Agreement and a shared vision for the future relationship, and to allow the Government to introduce the Withdrawal Agreement Bill and so ratify the Agreement. An important part of that process will be the Government agreeing with the Opposition a programme for the Bill. The Government’s objective is to ensure that this programme means the Bill can complete its passage such that the Agreement can be brought into force and the United Kingdom withdraw from the European Union in time to cancel the European Parliament elections. I am writing therefore to inform the European Council that the United Kingdom is seeking a further extension to the period provided under Article 50(3) of the Treaty on European Union, including as applied by Article 106a of the Euratom Treaty. The United Kingdom proposes that this period should end on 30 June 2019. If the parties are able to ratify before this date, the Government proposes that the period should be terminated early. The Government will want to agree a timetable for ratification that allows the United Kingdom to withdraw from the European Union before 23 May 2019 and therefore cancel the European Parliament elections, but will continue to make responsible preparations to hold the elections should this not prove possible.

It is frustrating that we have not yet brought this process to a successful and orderly conclusion. The United Kingdom Government remains strongly committed to doing so, and will continue to act as a constructive and responsible Member State of the European Union in accordance with the duty of sincere cooperation throughout this unique period. I would be grateful for the opportunity to update our colleagues on the position at our meeting on Wednesday.

Yours sincerely, Theresa May"

References

Theresa May’s letter to EU requesting a further delay to Brexit: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/793058/PM_letter_to_His_Excellency_Mr_Donald_Tusk__1_.pdf

Photo: Russel Hart