May’s new tour of Brussels

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May will travel to Brussels to meet European Union leaders on Thursday, February 7th, as she seeks a way to avoid a no-deal Brexit in 50 days' time.

Background 

On June 23rd, 2016, Britain narrowly voted to leave the European Union, stunning Europe and the world in general. The EU employs a set of policies for its 28-member states that aim to ensure the free movement of people, goods and trade among other services. Britain is deeply intertwined with the workings of the EU especially with regard to trade.

PM Theresa May’s leadership in the negotiations has been heavily criticised. She has been unable to form a consensus within the Parliament, or even her own party, for the course of Brexit. Her “directionless” leadership has not convinced most of her peers in Westminster and she was challenged by a no-confidence motion in early December 2018, which she narrowly won.

Despite her best efforts, the British parliament is not accepting the proposed Brexit agreement. Irrespective of whether they arrive on a deal or not, the UK is officially set to leave in March 2019. PM May has just survived a turbulent week in Parliament as she saw her proposed Brexit plan defeated with the largest margin in a century but also surviving a potentially course-changing no-confidence motion raised by Jeremy Corbyn.

Last month, the House of Commons overwhelmingly rejected the Brexit deal that Mrs May had negotiated with the EU after 18 months of painstaking diplomacy.

Analysis 

Expectations for the visit were already modest when, on Wednesday, EU kingpins Donald Tusk and Jean-Claude Juncker torched Mrs May's prospects of securing changes to the withdrawal agreement.

The President of the European Commission, Mr Juncker, told reporters that  Mrs May already knows and accepts that the EU will not reopen talks on the deal. Mr Tusk, who represents EU member governments as head of the European Council, triggered outrage across the Channel by damning pro-Brexit politicians for - in his view - recklessly failing to plan.

"I've been wondering what that special place in hell looks like, for those who promoted Brexit without even a sketch of a plan how to carry it out safely," Mr Tusk said.

Mr Juncker, at a later news conference, did not use the same language, but cheerfully laughed off Mr Tusk's remark. However, he also repeated the same warning that the withdrawal agreement, and the backstop clause designed to keep the Irish border open if no future trade deal is agreed, will not be changed.

"She knows that the commission is not prepared to reopen the issue," Mr Juncker said, after talks with Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, who also insisted on the need for the backstop.

This apparently united front did not daunt No. 10, which insisted that the British Parliament's rejection of the deal meant that Mrs May must seek material changes to the accord or see it fail. According to talking points provided by Downing Street ahead of the visit, Mrs May will admit that: "Securing such changes will not be easy."

However, she will add: "Last week, Parliament made clear that for the first time it could support the withdrawal agreement, subject to changes to the backstop.

"The Government now wants urgently to work with the EU to secure such changes. The EU shares the UK's commitment to leave with a deal. We must show determination and do what it takes to now get the deal over the line."

The impasse in Brussels has led to heightened fears Britain could crash out of the EU without a deal on March 29, disrupting trade and supplies to manufacturing.

Mrs May has exasperated EU leaders by repeatedly coming to Brussels without detailed proposals to solve the Brexit deadlock, and Mr Tusk warned her he expected her to bring “a realistic suggestion on how to end the impasse”.

Mr Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the main opposition Labour party, wrote to Mrs May on Thursday setting out his five conditions for backing her on Brexit – including the UK staying in the EU’s customs union.  

Assessment 

Our assessment is that , as stated before , the possibility of Brexit not happening altogether is getting stronger with every failure of the Theresa May government. We believe that the Conservative Government may request an extension from the EU on the exit date especially after German Foreign minister has signalled an intent to cooperate with London.