Consiglio Europeo

Theresa May had asked her European colleagues for some changes to the agreement, but she only received “no”

The European Council, the organ of the European Union that gathers the heads of state and government of the member countries, met yesterday to discuss among other things of Brexit, after that in the last days the situation has precipitated in a sort of limbo because of the difficulties of the British Parliament to approve the agreement on Brexit. There was no surprise. As expected by several observers, the Council has refused all requests of the first British minister Theresa May, and issued a very general final statement. To find a solution, another summit will probably be needed in January.

May had tried to convince some European leaders

For a whole week, May had tried to convince some European leaders to reopen the negotiations for the agreement found in mid-October, essentially because he did not have the numbers to get it approved by the British Parliament. Alternatively, May asked to establish a backstop expiration date – the temporary agreement that will be in place between the end of the transition period and the future trade agreement, if it is found – to try to bring several British Conservatives on its side , convinced that the backstop can remain standing for a very long time. May has recently won the confidence of the majority of Conservative parliamentarians, but about a third of them are convinced that the agreement on Brexit will make the United Kingdom remain overly linked to the Union, and that the blame lies above all in the backstop.

The Council rejected both May’s requests.

The agreement agrees very much to the EU – especially for economic and commercial reasons – and by reopening the negotiations the European Union would risk going back to a weak position, having declared in all the seats that the negotiations were over. As for the backstop, May tried to ask to expire it in 2021, but apparently he could not say whether the deadline could be made binding. The Guardian writes that the idea of a “forward” backstop was supported by Austria and Germany but opposed by several other countries, skeptical that the change could be decisive for the approval of the agreement to the British Parliament.

May did not seem to have very clear ideas

More generally, according to some sources heard by journalists who followed the summit, May did not seem to have very clear ideas. According to the reconstruction of Laurence Norman, the Wall Street Journal correspondent from Brussels, German chancellor Angela Merkel interrupted the discussion one or two times by asking May to make her requests explicit. In the press conference held at the end of the summit, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker reiterated that “it is the United Kingdom that is leaving the Union, and it is up to their government to tell us exactly what they want”.

The final statement

With just five paragraphs, underlines that the agreement “is not open to new negotiations” and confines itself to pledging the European Union to “work promptly on a final agreement by December 31, 2020, so that the backstop should not be activated ». The drafts of the statement circulated yesterday contained much more reassurance, then cut into the final version.

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurtz, who holds the presidency of the Council of the European Union, said that after yesterday’s debate “the ball has returned to the British camp”. Several sources consulted by Politico do not expect further moves in Europe before the vote in the British Parliament, which according to the May government will be held by January 21.


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