Brexit Suspended, May and Juncker will Talk Again

European Commission (EC) President Jean-Claude Juncker and British Prime Minister Theresa May made fresh efforts on Wednesday (02/21) to unlock the Brexit stalemate - Photo by European Commission Office

JAKARTA (TheInsiderStories) – European Commission (EC) President Jean-Claude Juncker and British Prime Minister Theresa May made fresh efforts on Wednesday (02/21) to unlock the Brexit stalemate. Without a breakthrough, as expected, they pledged to talk again before the end of the month.

At the meeting both leaders issued a joint statement pledging to continue exploring “alternative arrangements” to the controversial Northern Ireland backstop and “legal assurance” about its temporary nature. Notably, the statement focused on changes to the Political Declaration, the non-legally binding document that accompanies the 585-page Withdrawal Agreement.

Its still unclear how far May and Juncker’ negotiators will get. Officials said the process is inching forward and in focusing on the Political Declaration it appears that May has taken a crucial step in acknowledging that the Withdrawal Agreement agreed in November would not be reopened.

That is significant because May’ Brexiter backbenchers and the Democratic Unionist Party Member of Parliaments (MPs) who support her government have been adamant publicly that only changes to the legally binding document itself will suffice to bring them on board.

The so-called Brady amendment, which was narrowly passed by the House of Commons and  launched the prime minister’s efforts to renegotiate the backstop, specified that it should be replaced by alternative arrangements.

The two leaders talked about “which guarantees could be given with regard to the backstop that underlines once again its temporary nature and give the appropriate legal assurance to both sides”, said a joint statement published by EC.

They reconfirmed their commitment to avoiding a hard border on the island of Ireland and to respect the integrity of the European Union’ (EU) internal market and of the United Kingdom, said the statement.

They also discussed the role alternative arrangements could play in replacing the backstop in future and whether additions or changes to the Political Declaration can be made that are consistent with each other’ positions while increasing their confidence in the focus and ambition in delivering the future partnership envisaged as soon as possible.

May arrived in Brussels on Wednesday. Her latest visit came after Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay updated the British cabinet on his talks with the EU’ chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, who reportedly expressed concerns over the issue of the Irish backstop.

The backstop is the insurance policy for preventing the return of a hard border in Ireland after Britain leaves the EU on March 29. The backstop, which is part of May’s Withdrawal Agreement, became one of the main reasons her deal was voted down in Parliament in January.

In a vote, MPs later gave their backing for May to renegotiate the policy with the EU. May is set to return to Parliament in London to update MPs again on Feb. 26. In absence of a deal by then, she will give the House of Commons a say on the next steps in non-binding votes.

Earlier this week eight Labor MPs quit to establish the new group, only to be joined by three pro-EU MPs from the governing Conservative Party. The three said the final straw for them had been the government’s disastrous handling of Brexit.

It is the biggest upset in British politics since a so-called Gang of Four nationally known politicians quit Labor to form the Socialist Democratic Party. The 11 founder members of the Independent Group have resisted calls to resign from their parliamentary seats to seek re-election in their constituencies under their new colors.

Under British electoral laws they can switch sides and remain to serve as MPs until the next general election, due in 2022. The way Britain’ planned departure has been handled by May and the leader of Labour Party Jeremy Corbyn has been blamed for the resignations. The former Labor MPs are also furious with Corbyn saying he has failed to resolve a problem of anti-racism within Labor.

May expressed disappointed at the departure of three of her MPs before heading to Brussels to meet Juncker. The 11 rebel MPs want the British government to rule out leaving the EU on a no-deal basis, and they are also pressing for a People’s Vote, effectively a second national referendum on EU membership.

Written by Lexy Nantu, Email: lexy@theinsiderstories.com