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Prime Minister May under fire for seeking another Brexit extension

by Larry Neild LONDON United Kingdom (Xinhua) -- Prime Minister Theresa May’s plea Friday to European Council President Donald Tusk to delay Britain’s departure from the EU until June 30 came as talks between the ruling Conservative government and Labour opposition entered their third day.

May’s de facto Deputy Prime Minister David Lidington and Labour’s shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer, along with their negotiating teams, have yet to find a breakthrough to end a parliamentary impasse over a new deal with the EU.

May’s spokesman said at a Downing Street media briefing Friday that the talks could continue into the weekend.

"It’s an ongoing process; we’re taking one discussion at a time.

"We continue to focus on trying to reach a joint outcome that we can put to the European Council," the spokesman said.

May plans to spend the weekend at her Chequers country retreat with no plans at the moment to meet opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn.

In a letter, May has told Tusk she still hopes a Brexit solution can be found by May 23 to avoid Britain taking part in the European Parliament elections.

But her plea has generated criticism, anger and mixed opinions across the political divide in Britain.

The Labour Party accused May’s government of failing to offer "real change or compromise" during the third round of talks to end the current Brexit deadlock.

The Labour statement came at the end of the talks between May and Corbyn, which started on Wednesday.

The previous two rounds of talks failed to result in a breakthrough, although the two sides agreed to continue discussions.

"We urge the prime minister to come forward with genuine changes to her deal in an effort to find an alternative that can win support in Parliament and bring the country together," the Labour statement said.

Leave supporting Conservative MP and former minister Owen Paterson said his party should "go nuclear and push for a no-deal Brexit," adding that "Conservatives have nine days left to save themselves from political annihilation."

Politician Steve Baker, deputy chair of the European Research Group (ERG) of pro-leave Conservative MPs, said:

"If only the government would abandon pursuit of a customs union in all but name, this crisis would end."

The campaign group People’s Vote, which wants a second Brexit referendum, criticized May’s decision to seek another extension.

Veteran Labour politician and former Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett, who supports the campaign, said in a statement:

"The good news is that the prime minister has accepted there has to be an extension to the Brexit deadline.

"The bad news is that yet again she has chosen the worst option and done so for the worst reason, just to keep her failed strategy and her Brexit deal alive."

Beckett added: May "is taking both the British people and EU leaders for fools because we all know this is just another time-buying, can-kicking effort to hold her bitterly divided party together."

Stephen Gethins, Europe spokesman for the Scottish Nationalist Party, said:

"More than three years on from the EU referendum and the prime minister’s approach is still dictated by can-kicking and chaos."

Gethins said that with the British Parliament unable to reach a consensus it must now be the priority that the issue is brought back to the people in a fresh second EU referendum, with the option to remain on the ballot paper.

The Green Party’s only MP at Westminster, Caroline Lucas, commented:

"The prime minister is at odds with reality.

"The EU rejected this proposal just weeks ago.

"We’re now at the mercy of their decision.

"This is a national humiliation.

"Far from taking back control, we are now completely at the mercy of the EU27.

"This letter also undermines ongoing talks with Labour by effectively ruling out a people’s vote on the final deal.

"Both party leaders, and our EU partners, must recognize that we need more time to get out of this gridlock, and not force Parliament to make a decision in days which it’s been impossible to get to in almost three years."

Meanwhile, Brexit is having an impact on domestic politics. In a parliamentary by-election in South Wales, the result on Friday showed Labour’s candidate Ruth Jones holding onto the House of Commons seat with a much reduced majority of less than 2,000 over the second-placed Conservative candidate.

In the 2016 referendum, the people of the Newport West constituency voted Leave by a 56-44 margin.

Jeremy Corbyn, speaking in Newport to celebrate Jones’ election win, said:

"Labour is putting forward an agenda, which is about maintaining our market relationship with Europe and, above all, defending our rights and regulations which are so important to underpin the basics of employment standards in this country.

"Those are things we are absolutely insisting on."

May’s letter to Tusk comes as an existing April 12 deadline for Britain’s departure approaches, having already extended the original March 29 date when Britain should have either left the bloc or agreed a withdrawal deal with Brussels.

Media reports in London said Tusk was likely to suggest what has been described as a 12-month "flextension" to Britain.

It would allow Britain to leave at any point in the next year if a deal is agreed by Parliament.

Unless the EU grants a second extension, Britain is scheduled to leave the bloc by next Friday—unless a deal has been agreed.

Britain’s departure date was set in March, 2017 when it triggered an EU process known as Article 50. That started a two-year countdown to departure. Any extensions have to be agreed by all 27 member states of the EU.


EU members to veto Brexit extension "extremely unlikely": Irish PM

DUBLIN, Ireland (Xinhua) -- Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar has said that it is "extremely unlikely" that one of the 27 member states of the European Union (EU) could veto any proposal to grant Britain a longer extension to strike a Brexit deal, according to a Saturday report by a local TV channel RTE.

His remarks came just a few days before the European Council, the top decision-making body of the EU, is scheduled to hold a summit meeting to decide on whether the request by the British Prime Minister Theresa May to seek a further extension of Brexit to June 30 should be granted or not.

Speaking on a TV program of RTE, Varadkar acknowledged that there is increasing frustration in some of the EU member states such as Malta and Lithuania, which believe that Brexit is taking up an increasing amount of time while the EU has many other things on its agenda which need to be addressed.

But he believed that while everything is possible it is "extremely unlikely" that any of the EU member states would veto the proposal to grant Britain a longer extension at the coming summit of the European Council scheduled on next Wednesday despite the growing frustrated sentiments among some of the EU members.

He called for solidarity, patience and understanding among the EU members while dealing with Britain over the Brexit issue.

If any of the EU member states was to veto an extension, which as a result would cause hardship on Ireland as well as the Netherlands, Belgium and France, "they wouldn’t be forgiven for it", he said.

Any such country would know they might find themselves on the other end of that particular veto power in the future, he added.

Under the current decision-making mechanism of the EU, any decisions made by the EU require an unanimous agreement among its member states, or in other words, any EU member state has the right to veto the decisions made by the EU.


British government accused of failing to offer
real compromise in Brexit talks with Labour

LONDON United Kingdom (Xinhua) -- The Labour Party, the main opposition in Britain, on Friday accused the British government of failing to offer real change or compromise during the talks to end the current Brexit deadlock.

A Labour spokesperson said in a statement that "we are disappointed that the government has not offered real change or compromise."

The statement came at the end of the talks between British Prime Minister Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader, which started on Wednesday.

The previous talks failed to result in a breakthrough although the two sides agreed to further discussions in a bid to put an end to the Brexit stalemate.

"We urge the prime minister to come forward with genuine changes to her deal in an effort to find an alternative that can win support in parliament and bring the country together," the statement said.

The statement from Downing Street is not available at this moment.

With five days to go before the prime minister must travel to Brussels to request a further Brexit delay from European Union (EU) leaders, little progress was reported to have been made on finding a compromise deal both the government and the Labour Party could back.

EU leaders will meet to decide on whether to give Britain an extension—and how long it could be—on Wednesday night.

Britain is currently due to leave the EU on April 12 and, as yet, no withdrawal deal has been approved by British lawmakers.

Labour wants Britain to remain a permanent member of a customs union with the EU, which would mean zero customs tariffs and a single joint trade policy. However, the Tories want to leave the customs union so that Britain can strike unilateral trade deals.

The Friday talks ended just hours after May wrote to Donald Tusk, the European Council president, to ask to delay Brexit until June 30, this year so that British MPs can agree a withdrawal deal.

However, Tusk has been formally telling officials from member countries to endorse a much longer extension—until March 31, 2020.

Also on Friday, a poll result revealed by the Sky News said that a quarter of the British public would boycott European Parliament elections if they happen in Britain in May.

Some 26 percent of the surveyed British people said that they would sit out the elections in protest, while 47 percent said that they would vote in them, according to the data.

Meanwhile, 17 percent admitted that they would not vote in them anyway.

Britain still in Brexit limbo, but some see silver lining

LONDON United Kingdom (Xinhua) -- Uncertainties will continue to plague businesses as the outcome of the EU-UK divorce has yet to crystallize before the next scheduled Brexit day on April 12, experts have warned, but some struck a more hopeful tone.

Britain is now scheduled to leave the EU on April 12 after a delay from March 29 to avoid a no-deal Brexit. The bloc had earlier said that Britain can only win a further extension if a Brexit deal can be supported by its Parliament before April 12.

Otherwise, the country will leave the EU with no deal on that day.

But now the new departure date may be revoked again.

British Prime Minister Theresa May wrote to the European Union on Friday proposing a further extension till June 30, while the EU is reportedly proposing a one-year extension.

Any change will have to be agreed by the leaders of all EU members, whose next meeting will be on Wednesday.

Abhinay Muthoo, professor of economics at the University of Warwick, told Xinhua:

"The huge uncertainty caused by Brexit has adversely impacted on the UK economy, many businesses and people, from across the UK.

"It is difficult for them to plan for the future, or make the investment decisions in the current environment."

"Our clients are still preparing for a no-deal Brexit, it is still an option they think likely to happen ...

"So what we know now is we have contingency plans both in the UK and in the other 27 EU countries for the companies that trade between the UK and EU," said Aline Doussin, trade law expert at Hogan Lovells, an international law firm.

According to the latest report by consultants EY, financial services companies are transferring assets worth around 1 trillion British pounds (1.3 trillion U.S. dollars) and relocating 7,000 jobs from London to other European cities.

"Continued uncertainty will undoubtedly lead to more assets and people being transferred from the UK and not necessarily to the EU," said Omar Ali, UK financial services leader at EY.

Britain’s economy has been sluggish since the Brexit referendum in 2016, with growth at 1.4 percent only in 2018, the weakest since 2012.

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has warned that even with a smooth Brexit, growth in the UK would slump to 0.8 percent in 2019 and uncertainty over Brexit would hit businesses and impact economic growth.

IHS Markit research also showed unsatisfactory economic performance both in Britain and in the eurozone.

The UK Services Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) fell to 48.9 in March, below the benchmark of 50 that indicated contraction of the largest economic sector.

Meanwhile, for the eurozone, manufacturing PMI declined for an eighth month to 47.5 in March, its lowest reading since April 2013.

Iain Begg, a professorial research fellow at the European Institute, London School of Economics and Political Science, told Xinhua:

"With no clear path in sight to break the Brexit logjam, there is no easy answer to predicting the impact on the economies of the UK, the EU and the world at large."

"If the outcome is a no-deal Brexit, it could mean a sharp shock for the UK and a shallow recession.

"For the EU, a no-deal Brexit would also have negative repercussions, while for the global economy it would be seen as a downside risk at a time when various other risks are already a cause for concern," Begg said.

Aline Doussin predicted trade would be difficult between the UK and EU in case of a no-deal Brexit.

"A no-deal Brexit would affect manufacturers of cars and planes, medicines and consumer goods, as well as financial services.

"The UK is fundamentally a services economy, and the impact of leaving the EU would be felt very strongly there," she said.

Though customs authorities in the UK, France, Belgium and the Netherlands have been preparing for a no-deal scenario, it remains unknown whether these legal measures will be necessary and sufficient to maintain frictionless trade, she said.

Despite predicting dire consequences for the UK crashing out of the EU, Iain Begg regarded a no-deal Brexit as "very unlikely" despite the imminent April 12 deadline.

For Begg, the current situation means a further delay is more likely before some sort of deal is eventually reached by the House of Commons.

He said the best news for the economy at all three levels—the UK, EU and global—would be if Britain reached a rapid conclusion in favor of either a softer Brexit or canceling Brexit altogether.

Patrick Minford, a professor from Cardiff University who supports Brexit, told Xinhua it was time to dial down the Brexit hysteria.

"The thing to remember is that, regardless of Brexit, the UK economy is in good shape, with public finances now close to zero borrowing and unemployment at its all-time low," he said.

Minford believed that the Brexit negotiations will leave the status quo pretty undisturbed in the short term and pave the way for a new relationship with the EU in the long term.

In a recent report on Brexit, the Liverpool Research Group in Macroeconomics said the UK can rapidly sign free trade agreements, especially with the U.S., to bring forward gains from Brexit.

However, Aline Doussin noted the UK has yet to reach trade arrangements with large economies like Canada, Japan, the Republic of Korea, the U.S. and China, despite replicating some EU trade deals it has benefited from as an EU member into bilateral ones.

Britain has so far signed continuity agreements with Switzerland, Chile, Iceland, Norway, the Caribbean countries and others.

These agreements will take effect immediately after a no-deal Brexit or when the transition period ends in case of a smooth Brexit to allow businesses to continue trading freely.

The Lord Mayor of the City of London, Peter Estlin, also played down the impact of Brexit on the financial services industry in Britain.

"Financial services in the UK employ 2.2 million people and we’re talking about thousands of people, 7,000 maybe 10,000 people, being relocated. So it is a very, very small percentage," Estlin said.

France considers talks about longer extension of Brexit "premature": report

PARIS France (Xinhua) -- France on Friday considered talks about offering Britain further delay to exit from the European Union (EU) were "premature," calling on London to propose a credible alternative plan by next week to enjoy longer extension to Brexit negotiation, according to a local newspaper.

"Talking about an extension is a bit premature as the 27 had set a clear condition that the request must be justified by a clear plan," le Figaro quoted as saying a source from President Emmanuel Macron’s office, the Elysee.

"Extension is a tool, not the solution in itself. We are therefore waiting for a credible plan ... by April 10, and the request will be studied that day," it added.

Macron, on Tuesday, said Britain risks to leave the European bloc without accord if its Prime Minister Theresa May fails to come up with credible deal that will allow an orderly exit, arguing that "the EU cannot be held hostage to the resolution of a political crisis in the United Kingdom on a long-term basis."

Earlier on Friday, European Council President Donald Tusk said a 12-month "flexible" extension to the UK’s Brexit date was possible, in response to May’s second request to further postpone the Brexit date until June 30.

Under pressure to find majority support for her deal to leave the European bloc, May had to set out future plans to the EU this week, under the terms given by the bloc for the first Brexit extension which is set to end on April 12.

A special summit of EU leaders has been scheduled for April 10 to discuss the Brexit.



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