By Glenn Fleishman
January 18, 2019

It doesn’t hurt to ask? That appears to be the philosophy of U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May, who reportedly asked German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other European Union leaders for the same concessions for Britain’s exit from the consortium, or “Brexit,” as she had before her previous plan failed to pass Parliament.

The Telegraph reports that May called around to EU leaders after her plan for a negotiated Brexit failed by a historically disastrous 230-vote margin. Under an amendment approved before the vote, she has just days to present a backup measure to MPs.

May reportedly asked leaders for the same accommodations that the EU had previously turned down. May has competing factions within her party and its coalition partner from Northern Ireland with strikingly different demands for Brexit, and has sought the maximum flexibility in crafting an impossible proposal. A source told the Telegraph, “She hasn’t asked for anything new.”

Meanwhile, two dozen leaders across German business sent an open letter to the U.K., urging the country to remain in the E.U. and urge it not to “crash out,” which remains a possibility with no deal approved so far by Parliament and a deadline looming. The highest E.U. court recently ruled the U.K. could unilaterally reverse its notification that it planned to withdraw from the E.U., so long as it does so by the end of March.

However, British and E.U. leaders largely believe a second referendum of U.K. voters would be required to provide legitimacy to end the Brexit plans. Such a vote was seen as unlikely just days ago, and is now being actively mooted by some politicians, pundits, activists, and business leaders. May reportedly told some Cabinet members on Jan. 18 that no such referendum was possible, however.

May’s defeated plan, which the other 27 nations in the E.U. had agreed to, spelled out a 21-month transition period at the end of which the U.K. and the E.U. would have developed a new trading relationship. Previously, May had attempted to gain more flexibility from the E.U. in case an agreement couldn’t be sorted out in that time.

Complicating that, however, was the so-called “Irish backstop,” a compromise that would prevent a hard border between the Republic of Ireland, an independent country, and Northern Ireland, part of the U.K. Should the transition period fail without finding a way to preserve an effectively free and open border in Ireland—a mandate of the Good Friday peace agreement decades ago—the backstop would keep Northern Ireland effectively under E.U. regulations, and thus the rest of the U.K.

However, May reportedly has continued to ask for binding expiration date on the backstop. Without it, hardline Brexit supporters describe a future in which the U.K. effectively remains partially or entirely operating with E.U. rules, but without having any say on setting the rules because of its withdrawal.

The U.K. is hurtling towards a March 29 deadline set two years ago when it began the formal process of separating from the continental bloc. With Parliament failing to approve her plan and the E.U. unlikely to offer further concessions, a “no-deal” Brexit is plausible, which would leave the U.K. with no trade agreements in place with the other 27 nations, and potentially disrupt flights, shipping, the availability of critical medicine, and even food shortages.

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