Divorce deal is not open for rethink

On 19 December the Commission will publish a set of Brexit preparedness measures, including for no-deal scenario

Photo: EU We can add clarifications to what was agreed already, but no renegotiation is possible, EC President Juncker told PM May.

At their last for this year European Council sitting, held in Brussels on 13 and 14 December, the EU leaders had a lot of pressing issues on their plates, starting with the common long-term budget for 2021-2027, migration, completion of the Single Market and the Economic and Monetary Union, among the long list of items. But they also had to put Brexit again on the table, just 19 days after they endorsed the Withdrawal Agreement and the Political Declaration, because in London the divorce deal was challenged not only from opponents of the government, but also from some Tory party members.

Already on 10 December, European Council President Donald Tusk tweeted about his decision to call a special summit on Article 50 on Thursday. “We will not renegotiate the deal, including the backstop, but we are ready to discuss how to facilitate UK ratification,” he underlined, mentioning that as time is running out, the leaders will also discuss preparedness for a no-deal scenario.

Freshly survived Conservative MPs confidence vote, coming in Brussels face to face with presidents and premiers of the other 27 member countries, British Prime Minister Theresa May explained that the agreement struck on 25 November is in jeopardy and clarified what the hurdles were with ratifying the deal in the House of Commons.

Entering the Europa House of the Council on Thursday, she told media that she is not expecting any immediate breakthrough on the Irish backstop issue during the summit, but that she is searching for legal and political assurances from her colleagues that the backstop will not be permanent. This concern was voiced at the House of Commons and by 117 Conservative MPs that gave her thumps down at the no confidence vote the previous day. We need to get this deal over the line, May urged and pointed out that she thinks this is the best arrangement for everybody, for both the UK and the EU.

During a four hour dinner, the leaders of the EU27 agreed on five points concerning the Brexit “package”, starting with reconfirmation of the conclusions from 25 November of this year, when the Withdrawal Agreement was endorsed and the Political Declaration approved. The Union stands by this agreement and intends to proceed with its ratification. It is not open for renegotiation, they asserted.

Leaders emphasised once again that they wish to establish as close as possible a partnership with the UK in the future and stand ready to embark on preparations immediately after signature of the divorce deal to ensure that negotiations can start as soon as possible after UK's departure.

They also urged that the backstop is intended as an insurance policy to prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland and ensure the integrity of the Single Market. The European Council underlined as well that, if the backstop were nevertheless to be triggered, it would apply temporarily, unless and until it is superseded by a subsequent agreement which ensures that a hard border is avoided. In such a case, the Union would use its best endeavours to negotiate and conclude expeditiously a subsequent agreement that would replace the backstop, and would expect the same of the United Kingdom, so that the backstop would only be in place for as long as strictly necessary.

In terms of the future relationship, our UK friends need to say what they want, instead of asking us what we want, EC President Jean-Claude Juncker said at a news conference that started at midnight after the session ended. We would like within few weeks our UK friends to set out their expectations for us, he noted, adding that this debate sometimes is nebulous and imprecise “and I would like clarifications”. He also said that on 19 December the Commission will publish a set of Brexit preparedness measures, including for a no-deal scenario.

Juncker also specified that PM May “fought virtuous and courageous battle but the results are not yet there”. We can add clarifications to what was agreed already, but no renegotiation is possible and there will be no legally binding new obligations imposed on the EU, Juncker stressed.

Confirming that the lawmakers are prepared to clarify the terms of the future relations, EP President Antonio Tajani said that as far as the Parliament is concerned, the withdrawal agreement on the table is the only deal possible, and cannot be reopened under any circumstances. The European Parliament's message on Brexit is simple, clear and reflects a unanimous position: we favour working towards greater clarity on our future relations with the United Kingdom, if it helps our British friends to understand that the backstop is a safeguard clause, not a trap imprisoning the United Kingdom in the customs union, he stated.

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