BFF-65 EU says still time for Brexit deal as failure looms

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EU says still time for Brexit deal as failure looms

LONDON, Oct 15, 2018 (BSS/AFP) – British and European leaders insisted
Monday they could still reach a Brexit deal despite the latest failed round
of divorce talks, but the EU warned it was stepping up “no deal”
preparations.

British Prime Minister Theresa May admitted there was still “disagreement”
over how to keep open Britain’s land border at Northern Ireland with EU
member Ireland, but said a deal was “achievable”.

“We’ll just have to keep negotiating”, said German Chancellor Angela
Merkel, while French President Emmanuel Macron said he believed “we can make
progress”.

They were speaking two days before heading to Brussels for a summit of EU
leaders that had been billed as a “moment of truth” ahead of Britain’s exit
from the bloc in March.

EU Brexit pointman Michel Barnier met his British counterpart Dominic Raab
in Brussels on Sunday, but they failed to agree to a draft Brexit divorce
arrangement as had been hoped.

Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, whose country would suffer the biggest
economic impact if Britain left without a deal, said an agreement was now
more likely in November or December.

May’s Northern Irish allies meanwhile warned the impasse meant it was
“probably inevitable” Britain would now leave the EU with no deal.

And in Brussels, European Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas said the
bloc’s preparations were being stepped up for a disorderly Brexit.

“While we are working hard for a deal, our preparedness and contingency
work is continuing and intensifying,” Schinas said.

– Time for ‘cool heads’ –

Meanwhile, May made a statement to the House of Commons to address what
she called “inaccurate speculation” about the Brexit talks.

The Conservative leader, who is facing a political high-wire act in trying
to reach a deal that is acceptable to both the EU and MPs at home, said it
was time for “cool, calm heads to prevail”.

“I continue to believe that a negotiated deal is the best outcome for the
UK and for the EU. I continue to believe that such a deal is achievable,” she
said. But the threat she faces was revealed by Sammy Wilson, the Brexit
spokesman for the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) which props up her
government.

He suggested there was no Brexit deal that would command the support of
all British MPs, saying a no-deal scenario was “probably inevitable”.

Europeans insisted there was still time to resolve the outstanding issues
before a possible emergency summit in November.

“We were actually pretty hopeful that we would manage to seal an exit
agreement. At the moment it looks more difficult,” Merkel said.

A breakthrough would require “quite a bit of finesse and if we aren’t
successful this week, we’ll just have to keep negotiating”, she told the
German Foreign Trade Federation.

In Paris, Macron said: “I believe in our collective intelligence, so I
think we can make progress”, but added that “we are ready for all scenarios”.

– Irish fundamentals –

Sunday’s talks ended without a breakthrough on the crucial issue of future
trade to and from the British province of Northern Ireland.

London and Brussels say they want no checks imposed on the land border
between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, but the problem
persists of how to square that aim with Britain’s decision to leave the EU’s
single market and the customs union.

“There are some fundamentals that we can’t compromise on,” Varadkar said
on Monday.

Britain has proposed sticking with EU customs rules after Brexit as a
fallback option to keep the border open, until a wider trade deal is agreed
that avoids the need for frontier checks.

The EU’s suggestion would see Northern Ireland remain aligned with
Brussels’ rules, thus varying from the rest of the United Kingdom — which is
unacceptable to the DUP.

May said this weekend’s talks broke down because, while the EU had
accepted the London plan had merit, it was still insisting on its own
proposal.

She added that the two sides also disagreed over how long the fallback
“backstop” would last.

“If the EU were not to co-operate on our future relationship, we must be
able to ensure that we cannot be kept in this backstop arrangement
indefinitely,” she said.

BSS/AFP/FI/ 2256 hrs