#Brexit – Tell us what you want, what you really, really want

| December 14, 2018

British Prime Minister Theresa May will return empty handed to the UK today (14 December). She put forward a ‘package’ to help her get the Withdrawal Agreement adopted in the UK, arguing that with the right assurances it would be possible that the UK parliament would support her deal, describing it as the “only one that is capable of getting through my parliament”, writes Catherine Feore.

Last night’s (13 December) discussions on Brexit took place during a working dinner. Heads of government, the European Commission, European Council and the European Parliament have been unequivocal in their support for the backstop, guaranteeing a soft border on the island of Ireland. With an eye on Westminster, soft words of assurance needed to ensure the support of May’s truculent backbench MPs were widely anticipated. Indeed, those who saw earlier drafts of the Council conclusions expected this.

Instead, the text was hardened and references to “the Union being ready to examine whether any further assurance can be provided” deleted. Prime Ministers, like the Netherlands’ Marc Rutte, were keen before the meeting to make it clear that they were hopeful the backstop remained in place only as a safety net. Text reflecting this view: “The European Council underlines that the backstop does not represent a desirable outcome for the Union” was deleted, reflecting a general exasperation with the UK.

The Council did underline (paragraph 4, conclusions) that the Union would use its best endeavours to expeditiously reach a solution should they backstop be triggered, but in text added last night to the earlier draft stated that they “would expect the same of the United Kingdom”.

Following the dinner, Commission President Juncker did not hold back, saying that he wanted the UK to set out its expectations, instead of asking the EU what it wants. With his usual candour, he said that the UK was “nebulous and imprecise”. As the EU-27 does not know what will happen, he said that the Commission will publish all the information that is needed to prepare on 19 December. The conclusions also underline the need to prepare for all scenarios. In response to a question, Juncker reminded journalists that the agreement reached needed the approval of two parliaments, “an insular one and a continental one”.

Tusk said that the negotiations were not going to be reopened and that negotiations on the future relationship should be opened as soon as possible following Brexit (29 March 2019).

At a briefing following the dinner, Dutch Prime Minister Marc Rutte said that the backstop was needed for the continuation of the Northern Ireland peace process. Rutte emphasized that the commitment to a soft border was a joint red line for the UK and EU-27.

Theresa May has a further bilateral meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron today (14 December).

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