May in final attempt to clinch Brexit deal

The border on the island of Ireland remains the thorniest issue

British PM Theresa May stepped up last week attempts to get European support for a draft Brexit deal as negotiations on securing a smooth divorce with the EU enter final stage, news wires reported. Less than five months before Britain is due to leave the EU, a deal is 95% done. But officials have repeatedly cautioned they are still haggling over the fate of the land border between British-ruled Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland. May told her cabinet last Tuesday that more time was needed to clear the final hurdle and ensure no hard border emerges on the island of Ireland.

The EU wants to see a breakthrough within a week if leaders are to endorse any Brexit deal in November, but an EU Brexit summit scheduled for 17-18 November is no longer on the cards, official and diplomatic sources told Reuters. There is only a slim chance that an agreement between British and EU negotiators can be reached in time to hold such a summit, according to one British official.

After May discussed Brexit with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and European Council President Donald Tusk, British ministers were shown the text of a deal which is almost agreed. She was to meet other EU leaders on Thursday in France and Belgium at commemorations to mark the 100th anniversary of the end of World War One. May is scheduled to have lunch with French President Emmanuel Macron and dinner with other leaders of the NATO military alliance in Brussels.

The deal - or the lack of one - will shape Britain's prosperity for generations to come and have long-term consequences for the EU's global clout. Both sides need an agreement to keep trade flowing between the world's biggest trading bloc and the fifth largest global economy. The other 27 members of the EU combined have about five times the economic might of Britain.

May wants a deal - both on a withdrawal agreement and a framework for future ties – to be reached before year-end as she must get the deal approved by the British parliament. If she fails to clinch a Brexit deal with the EU, or parliament votes down her deal, then Britain would face leaving without a divorce deal, and thus without a transition period. Many business chiefs and investors fear such a “no-deal” Brexit would weaken the West, panic financial markets and block the global trade.

The EU holds a regular summit on 13-14 December, when decision on Brexit should be made. “We are not there yet. The clock is ticking. The choices need to be made now on the UK side,” EU negotiator Michel Barnier told reporters last Wednesday. “There are still important issues outstanding.”

More on this subject: Brexit

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