EU of­fers U.K. help­ing hand, but no re­open­ing of Brexit deal

Miami Herald - - WORLD | DEATHS - BY RAF CASERT AND JILL LAW­LESS As­so­ci­ated Press

Eu­ro­pean Union of­fi­cials are work­ing with Bri­tain on ways to help Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May avoid a nodeal Bri­tish de­par­ture from the bloc, al­though an EU leader in­sisted Fri­day that his help­ing hand won’t in­clude any rene­go­ti­a­tion of the Brexit di­vorce deal.

As spec­u­la­tion grew that Bri­tain might have to de­lay its exit from the bloc be­yond the March 29 dead­line, Eu­ro­pean Com­mis­sion Pres­i­dent Jean-Claude Juncker said “we are checking with Down­ing Street what the clar­i­fi­ca­tions could amount to” that might help May get her Brexit deal ap­proved by Bri­tain’s Par­lia­ment next week.

But, Juncker added: “They should not be con­fused with a rene­go­ti­a­tion.”

An EU of­fi­cial said the bloc and the Bri­tish govern­ment “are in con­tact at all lev­els … to make sure that the deal goes through.” The of­fi­cial spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity to dis­cuss the diplo­matic talks.

The two sides are dis­cussing pos­si­ble re­as­sur­ances to help per­suade re­luc­tant Bri­tish law­mak­ers to back the deal in a vote Tues­day in Par­lia­ment.

Bri­tain and the EU reached a hard-won Brexit deal in Novem­ber, but the agree­ment has run aground in the Bri­tish Par­lia­ment. May post­poned a vote on the deal in De­cem­ber to avoid a re­sound­ing de­feat, and there are few signs the deal has picked up sup­port since then.

May promised to seek fur­ther guar­an­tees from Brussels on the most con­tentious is­sue, the sta­tus of the Ire­land-North­ern Ire­land bor­der.

The EU is adamant that the legally bind­ing 585page with­drawal agree­ment can’t be re­opened, but EU of­fi­cials are look­ing for diplo­matic word­ing that could sway re­luc­tant U.K. law­mak­ers.

The Brexit agree­ment aims to guar­an­tee Bri­tain’s smooth de­par­ture from the bloc, with a long tran­si­tion pe­riod to adapt to the new sit­u­a­tion and ne­go­ti­ate a per­ma­nent trade agree­ment.

With­out a deal, Bri­tain faces an abrupt break from the EU on March 29, and there are fears it could in­volve chaotic scenes at bor­ders, ports and air­ports. Busi­nesses and peo­ple in Bri­tain would face an un­cer­tain pe­riod as it tries to find out what the un­charted fu­ture would bring.

“I don’t like the prospect of a ‘no deal.’ It would be a catas­tro­phe,” Juncker said on a visit to Ro­ma­nia, as the na­tion took over the EU’s ro­tat­ing pres­i­dency.

Most Bri­tish law­mak­ers also op­pose the prospect of leav­ing the EU with­out a deal. But many also dis­like May’s agree­ment, which has dis­pleased both sides of Bri­tain’s Brexit di­vide.

Many law­mak­ers who back leav­ing the EU say it leaves the U.K. teth­ered to the bloc’s rules and un­able to forge an in­de­pen­dent trade pol­icy, while proEuro­peans ar­gue it’s in­fe­rior to the fric­tion­less eco­nomic re­la­tion­ship Bri­tain that cur­rently en­joys as an EU mem­ber.

A de­feat in Tues­day’s vote will leave Bri­tain star­ing at an exit with­out a deal 10 weeks later, un­less the coun­try’s feud­ing politi­cians can quickly agree on an­other plan. This week, Bri­tish law­mak­ers passed an amend­ment forc­ing May’s govern­ment to come back to Par­lia­ment with a new pro­posal within three work­ing days of the deal be­ing re­jected.

But with no ma­jor­ity in Par­lia­ment for any sin­gle al­ter­nate course, there is a grow­ing chance that Bri­tain may seek to post­pone its de­par­ture date while politi­cians work on a new plan.

Ex­tend­ing the dead­line would re­quire the EU’s ap­proval.

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