Brexit: the great expectations of the United Kingdom meet the European reality


British Prime Minister Theresa May meets the President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker to discuss Brexit at the EU headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, on December 11, 2018.Author's image

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Theresa May will meet again the President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker (photo of the file)

A few hours away from the terminal of British Prime Minister Theresa May here in Brussels, there is evidence – once again – of a gulf between the hint of his office and the reality of the European Union.

Downing Street expects a revised Brexit deal in sight, perhaps ready for the House of Commons to vote at the start of next week. The chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, is still talking about a "disturbing political impasse".

Jean Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission, says he does not expect any breakthrough during his meeting with Mrs. May, but it is a polite language compared to what I hear behind the scenes.

Of course, it depends exactly on what you ask.

If the prime minister is looking for legally binding assurances that the support mechanism to secure the Irish border will remain open after Brexit is not a trap or a permanent post-Brexit EU-UK solution, then the diplomats of the EU tell me they could attract it "anytime, 24/7".

That is, if Mrs. May thinks it would be enough to get the Brexit agreement through Parliament.

But few, if any, believe that it would be enough for all the members of the European research group, in addition to the DUP, to vote "yes" to the agreement next week – do not worry about all the uncertainties in Parliament now caused by the resignation from Labor and from Theresa May Conservative Party.

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And if the prime minister still wants "back-up" insurance to include a unilateral exit mechanism for the UK or a fixed and immovable end date, then he will meet an EU wall.

This is because the backstop is also a reserve mechanism for the EU to protect its single market.

The "lack of knowledge" of the United Kingdom

The idea in Westminster that the EU will "fight in the end" rather than face a Brexit without agreement is correct, as the EU is more flexible than it had previously indicated.

But the scope of its flexibility is grossly overestimated by many MPs.

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True, the European Union has a past form in going to the last minute to high-ranking negotiations such as the Greek debt crisis – but only when it has been held to be in the block's greatest interest.

In the case of Greece, the EU has decided to bend the rules to save, according to the opinion of its leaders, the widest currency of the euro.

But the watering down or the abandonment of the total shutdown mechanism are considered harmful to the EU.

Although many EU leaders want to avoid a Brexit without agreement, let a distance of 500 km (310 miles) be considered for them much more expensive in the long run. This is due to the risk that the laws of third countries will be smuggled into the wider single market through Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom.

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That perception of threat to the single market means that the EU will not substantially abandon or weaken protection unless there is a watertight alternative.

Last week, a group of Dutch politicians came back from the UK complaining about what they called "lack of knowledge" and "lack of interest" among many in Westminster on how the EU works.

The part of the lack of knowledge was also pronounced in Brussels by the United Kingdom Attorney General, Geoffrey Cox, on whom the hope of Downing Street now rides to try to reach an agreement with the Parliament.

While the House of Commons has turned into increasing turbulence in recent weeks, little has changed in the EU-UK talks.

EU ready to protect itself

The current deadlock on the Brexit agreement still comes in the UK that does not appreciate the blocking mechanism.

By the way, even the EU countries do not appreciate it, and I would rather not use it, but the EU "offers" only clear clarifications or legally binding assurances to express it – in addition to ways to avoid triggering the block completely. safety.

An example of this would be the United Kingdom which accepts a permanent customs union.

But Downing Street insists that those ideas will not fly into the House of Commons.

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EU officials believe that any discovery, if found, will materialize next month. Otherwise, the EU is preparing to grant an extension of the UK exit process – Brexit will occur on 29 March. They also understand that MPs may request that extension even earlier.

But the tone is greatly strengthening in Brussels.

EU officials say that if progress is not made with the UK, regardless of the extension time, they will use those extra months to deepen their planning to protect themselves from a Brexit without agreement.

Of course, to some extent, these are fighting talks designed to increase pressure on the United Kingdom.

So are the repeated declarations of unity of the EU on Brexit by Michel Barnier, the main negotiator of the Brexit of the European Union, while visiting the European capitals.

Having said that, I have been struck by a growing sense in the EU over time that a Brexit without agreement – though highly undesirable – will be manageable for them, while it is still very damaging to the United Kingdom.


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