EU hopes fade for Novem­ber sum­mit to seal Brexit deal

Times of Oman - - WORLD -

BRUS­SELS: EU of­fi­cials on Tues­day poured cold wa­ter on hopes of hold­ing a spe­cial sum­mit this month to seal a Brexit di­vorce, say­ing talks have made some progress -- but not enough.

One source close to the ne­go­ti­a­tions with Lon­don said: “I think the sum­mit will be in De­cem­ber. For the time be­ing not enough progress on Ir­ish bor­der ques­tion to have a sum­mit in Novem­ber.”

An­other of­fi­cial would not cat­e­gor­i­cally rule out a Novem­ber sum­mit, but ad­mit­ted that even if there is an un­ex­pected break­through in the com­ing days it could take up to two weeks to pre­pare one.

EU Pres­i­dent Don­ald Tusk held a call with Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May on Wed­nes­day, but there was no break­through and the of­fi­cial said “mem­ber states will need time” to di­gest any draft deal.

Bri­tain is due to leave the 28-na­tion bloc on March 29 next year, but de­tails of the with­drawal treaty have yet to be agreed and pre­vi­ous sum­mits have bro­ken up, some­times in bit­ter rows.

The main stick­ing point is the bor­der be­tween EU mem­ber Ire­land and the Bri­tish-ruled prov­ince of North­ern Ire­land.

Hard bor­der

Both sides say they want to avoid the emer­gence of a hard bor­der that could un­der­mine the 1998 Good Fri­day peace agree­ment -- but Lon­don does not want the prov­ince to re­main in the EU Cus­toms Union in­def­i­nitely.

For Dublin and Brus­sels, the so-called “back­stop” means that if Bri­tain fails to ne­go­ti­ate a free trade deal within a 21-month tran­si­tion pe­riod, North­ern Ire­land must re­main in the sin­gle mar­ket.

May has said no Bri­tish prime min­is­ter could agree to such a con­ces­sion, but ne­go­tia­tors are re­ported to be work­ing on lan­guage for a “re­view mech­a­nism” that would gov­ern the back­stop.

Ir­ish premier Leo Varad­kar, vis­it­ing Helsinki for a meet­ing of Euro­pean cen­tre-right par­ties, said “ev­ery day that passes, the pos­si­bil­ity of hav­ing a spe­cial sum­mit in Novem­ber be­comes less likely.”

“But we do have one sched­uled any­way for the 13th and 14th of De­cem­ber, so not get­ting it done in Novem­ber doesn’t mean we can’t get it done in the first two weeks of De­cem­ber,” he added.

“But I think be­yond that you’re into the new year which I think wouldn’t be a good thing.”

And on Tues­day, after meet­ing Bri­tish of­fi­cials in Lon­don, Bel­gium’s For­eign Min­is­ter Di­dier Reyn­ders warned that it might take to the end of the year be­fore a deal is pos­si­ble.

Brus­sels’ chief Brexit ne­go­tia­tor Michel Barnier has made it clear any talk on Bri­tain’s fu­ture re­la­tions with the union must wait un­til the with­drawal deal is en­shrined in a le­gal treaty.

And Tusk has said he will not call the sum­mit that would ap­prove such a treaty un­til Barnier has been able to re­port to him that “de­ci­sive progress” has been made to­wards agree­ment.

Barnier is this week at the meet­ing of his Euro­pean Peo­ple’s Party in Helsinki and there is noth­ing on his pub­lic agenda about an im­mi­nent meet­ing with Bri­tain’s Brexit min­is­ter Do­minic Raab.

On Mon­day, how­ever, Barnier will brief min­is­ters from the other 27 EU mem­ber states on the sit­u­a­tion in the talks -- even as their cap­i­tals ramp up plan­ning for how to deal with a “no deal” Brexit.

May, mean­while, has to make sure any deal wins the ap­proval of her party and par­lia­ment. And EU ne­go­tia­tors say they fear that none of the op­tions on the ta­ble could com­mand a Com­mons ma­jor­ity.

On Tues­day the man in charge of the Euro­pean Union’s con­tin­gency plan­ning for this po­ten­tially dis­as­trous sce­nario, civil ser­vice head Martin Sel­mayr, sounded pes­simistic. “Ne­go­ti­a­tions with the UK are a bit like the Echter­nach Spring Pro­ces­sion: three steps for­ward, two back,” he told vis­it­ing Ger­man politicians, ac­cord­ing to Der Spiegel re­porter Peter Mueller.

- Reuters file photo

NO BREAK­THROUGH: Bri­tain’s Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May held a call with EU Pres­i­dent Don­ald Tusk but there was no break­through with an of­fi­cial say­ing ‘mem­ber states will need time’ to di­gest any draft deal.

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