EU, Britain hammer out new Brexit plan
12 March 2019
British Prime Minister Theresa May and European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker on Monday announced a new, revised Brexit deal that, they said, will remove the biggest hurdle in Britain’s exit from the 27-member European Union.
Announcing this at a news conference in Strasbourg, France on Monday, Prime Minister Theresa May said new documents to be added to the deal provided “legally binding changes” to the part relating to the Irish border.
The announcement made after Britain and the European Union emerged from last-minute talks late on Monday, came hours before the UK Parliament was due to decide the fate of Prime Minister Theresa May’s hard-won plan to leave the EU.
On the eve of Tuesday’s vote, May flew to Strasbourg, to seek guarantees from European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker that would help her secure support from reluctant British legislators to her hard-fought withdrawal agreement with the EU.
While May said the deal provided “legally binding changes” to the part relating to the Irish border, May said the legal 585-page withdrawal agreement itself was left intact.
“In politics, sometimes you get a second chance. It is what you do with this second chance that counts. Because there will be no third chance,” Juncker warned the legislators who will vote late on 22 March.
“Let’s be crystal clear about the choice — it is this deal or Brexit might not happen at all,” he said.
May said the changes should overcome lawmakers’ qualms about a mechanism in the deal designed to keep an open border between Britain’s Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland. The mechanism, known as the backstop, is a safeguard that would keep the UK in a customs union with the EU until a permanent new trading relationship is in place.
Brexit-supporters in Britain fear the backstop could be used to bind the country to EU regulations indefinitely.
May said the new wording “will guarantee that the EU cannot act with the intent of applying the backstop indefinitely.”
“Now is the time to come together to back this improved Brexit deal and deliver on the instruction of the British people,” she said.
But the changes appear to fall well short of Brexiteers’ demands for a unilateral British exit mechanism from the backstop.
Pro-Brexit UK lawmakers said they would read the fine print and wait for the judgment of Britain’s Attorney General before deciding how to vote on 12 March.
Announcing the breakthrough in Britain’s House of Commons, Cabinet Office Minister David Lidington said lawmakers faced “a fundamental choice... to vote for the improved deal or to plunge this country into a political crisis.”
Juncker warned Britain “there will be no new negotiations” if lawmakers rejected the deal again.
Britain is due to pull out of the EU on 29 March, but the government has not been able to win parliamentary approval for its agreement with the bloc on withdrawal terms and future relations. This has raised fears of a “no-deal” Brexit that could mean major disruption for businesses and people in Britain and the 27 remaining EU countries.
“This is a government in chaos, with a country in chaos because of this mess,” Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn said.
May, on the other hand, is bent on securing an exit deal with the EU and is under mounting pressure to quit if it is defeated again.