UK Parliament

EU is making emergency plan in case of PM’s departure


Brexit-873892.jpgAs we report this morning, European Union leaders have begun preparations for the fall of Theresa May’s government with a plan to delay Brexit if the seemingly inevitable meltdown comes.

Britain’s political instability is now regarded by the EU as the most risky factor in the withdrawal negotiations and pressure will build on the prime minister to delay Brexit by extending exit talks by up to two years.

Fears are growing daily, from one cabinet resignation to another, that Mrs May will not survive beyond Christmas, derailing talks and the prospects of a quick transition deal sought by both British and European businesses.

Because of the uncertainty “no options are excluded”, including a “no deal” disorderly exit from the EU, a postponement of Brexit or even the reversal of the referendum decision.

One idea that has come out of nowhere in recent days is a proposal to delay Brexit with a one-off extension of the two-year Article 50 exit negotiating period, spun as a form of transitional agreement that effectively keeps British EU membership intact, minus voting rights or participation in decisions, until 2021 or later.

Britain would be hurt the most from a cliff-edge Brexit but the rest of the EU would also suffer, according to the German council of economic experts, which presented its annual report in Berlin.

“The length of the Brexit negotiations is of some concern to us,” said Christoph Schmidt, the council’s chairman, as reported by my colleague David Charter in Berlin.

“We anticipate a lot of damage for all parties, most of all for Great Britain, of course, if a hard disorderly Brexit were to happen. We should try to avoid that if at all possible. If the timeframe for negotiations is not sufficient we would suggest a one-time prolongation of the withdrawal negotiation period.”

The plan to delay Brexit has been confirmed by sources at the highest level of the EU and by British officials working on the negotiations

Ambassadors from the EU’s 27 countries met in Brussels yesterday to begin preliminary discussions on the scope of a future transition agreement, which would only be signed off after Britain agreed “divorce” issues such as a European demand for a €60 billion financial settlement.

Britain has until the end of the month, during negotiations pencilled in for November 27, to agree to the cash demand or risk transition talks being postponed until next year, a scenario that profoundly alarms business leaders and could lead to market turbulence in the new year.

Talks focused on whether transitional arrangements would cover continuing access to the single market and customs union. Any access to the single market would mean the government accepting its “indivisible four freedoms”, including the right of EU migrant workers to settle in Britain without work permits and with full residency rights.

Britain is resisting pressure for a transition deal that would effectively mean a continuation of EU membership after the scheduled Brexit date of March 30, 2019.

One option, which has significant support within the bloc, is to extend the Article 50 withdrawal talks, with a one time only deal, by the unanimous agreement of all 27 member governments, so that UK prolongs its membership but is excluded from all decision-making.

Another scenario on the table would mean that the withdrawal agreement would not come into force until the end of a transitional period lasting at least two years — 2021 rather than 2019. During that period the European Communities Act 1972 would continue to apply, meaning that EU laws and courts would retain automatic supremacy over the Westminster parliament.

Both scenarios are seen as politically unacceptable to Brexit-supporting cabinet ministers and backbench Eurosceptic Tory MPs, but that might change if the government falls and Britain needs the political space and time to hold elections.

Unpalatable as it is, the preferred option for Britain is for parliament to enshrine a withdrawal agreement that enters into force after the Article 50 talks are due to end in March 2019, with a transition period of about two years allowing full access to the single market, preventing a “cliff edge” for business.

Included in the deal, which would be voted through the Commons as an international treaty without amendment, would be a legally binding commitment preventing MPs from amending existing EU legislation.

The agreement would additionally have a legal mechanism for the automatic “direct effect” of EU court rulings and new Brussels directives or regulations without any British participation in the drafting or decision-making on European legislation.

With the possibility of elections and a Labour government in mind, EU negotiators have deliberately kept open the idea of a “Norway option” in which Britain would retain membership of the European Economic Area.

EU leaders, diplomats and officials detect — or believe they detect — a shift in the political terrain in Britain, with the possibility to delay Brexit or even upset the referendum result altogether.

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Almost every government in the 28 EU nations is now unstable.
I wonder why?

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