EU leaders open to Brexit delay, but May faces storm at home
By LONE COOK and JILL LAWLESS
Thursday, March 21
BRUSSELS (AP) — European Union leaders meeting in Brussels said Thursday they were likely to grant Britain a Brexit delay if the U.K. government can win parliamentary support next week for its EU divorce deal, though it may be shorter than the June 30 date the U.K. has asked for.
Across the Channel, however, there were few signs that Prime Minister Theresa May’s unpopular Brexit deal was gaining in popularity among British lawmakers. May angered many with a televised speech late Wednesday, blaming a divided Parliament for an impasse that has left Britain eight days away from crashing out of the bloc with no divorce deal. One lawmaker slammed her remarks as “toxic.”
As she arrived in Brussels to lobby her European partners to extend the Brexit date from March 29 until June 30, May did not rule out taking Britain out of the EU with no deal if the divorce agreement she reached with the EU in November is rejected again by British lawmakers.
Businesses and economists say a no-deal Brexit would cause huge disruptions to the economies of both Britain and the EU.
“What matters is that we recognize that Brexit is the decision of the British people. We need to deliver on that,” May said. “I sincerely hope that will be with a negotiated deal.”
Britain is due to leave the EU on March 29 unless the bloc grants an extension. Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said that among the 27 other EU leaders “there is an openness to an (Brexit) extension across the board.”
“Nobody wants no deal here,” Varadkar told reporters.
Lithuania’s president, Dalia Grybauskaite, said it was likely “we will grant (an extension), but what exact timing, that’s still under discussion.” She said the bloc would likely set a late-May deadline — “or (a) long extension, and in that case the UK will have to organize elections.”
She said the key problem was the May 23-26 European Union elections. Britain so far has no plans to take part in the vote because it hopes to leave the bloc before the new parliament is in session.
May’s deal has been roundly rejected twice by the U.K. Parliament, and EU leaders want evidence that May can convince lawmakers to change their minds next week.
That looked more uncertain after her speech Wednesday in which May told a Brexit-weary public: “You want this stage of the Brexit process to be over and done with. I agree. I am on your side.”
May accused lawmakers of “infighting, “political games” and “arcane procedural rows,” but acknowledged no personal role in creating the political impasse.
Many U.K. legislators, including some from her own Conservative Party, condemned the tone of her speech.
Anna Soubry, of the breakaway Independent Group, described it in a tweet as the “most dishonest and divisive statement from any Prime Minister.” David Lammy of the opposition Labour Party called the speech “sinister,” while Conservative Sam Gyimah called May’s comments “toxic” and a “low blow.”
But Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said May was tapping into the public’s exasperated mood.
“In fairness, what she is actually saying is that we have to implement the results of a democratic referendum,” he told the BBC. “That’s the challenge.”
May’s opponents, and EU officials, say her refusal to budge on her rejected deal is pushing Britain to the brink of a catastrophic no-deal scenario.
From the EU side, German Chancellor Angela Merkel vowed to work “until the last hour” to try and ensure that Britain doesn’t leave without a deal, even though her government has enacted emergency measures to deal with such a scenario just in case.
“We will, despite these measures we have taken, work until the last day — I will say until the last hour — to ensure that this emergency planning doesn’t come into effect,” she told German lawmakers.
But Merkel warned the EU wants to ensure the legitimacy of the May elections to the European Parliament. European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has said Britain should be out before May 23 or be obliged to take part in the Europe-wide vote.
EU officials fear that citizens unable to vote could launch legal action at the European Court of Justice, or that businesses unhappy with legislation adopted by the new parliament might challenge its legitimacy.
Should May fail to get her Brexit deal passed, EU leaders could be forced to meet again next week with a much longer extension a possibility.
May said Parliament faced a “final choice” between her deal, a no-deal departure and cancelling Brexit.
But what remains unclear is exactly what happens next.
Hunt said he did not know if May’s Brexit deal will be brought back to Parliament next week, as he warned of “extreme unpredictability” if the issue is not resolved.
U.K. opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn was also meeting senior EU officials in Brussels, trying to persuade them that Parliament can find an alternative to May’s rejected Brexit plan. Corbyn said he was “looking for alternatives and building a majority in Parliament that can agree on a future constructive economic relationship with the European Union.”
Raf Casert and Samuel Petrequin in Brussels, Geir Moulson in Berlin, Danica Kirka in London and Jan M. Olsen in Copenhagen, Denmark, contributed to this report.
Follow AP’s full coverage of Brexit at: https://www.apnews.com/Brexit
May tries to save Brexit deal after vote to delay UK exit
By JILL LAWLESS
Friday, March 15
LONDON (AP) — British Prime Minister Theresa May worked Friday to pull off an against-the-odds rescue for her European Union divorce deal, after Parliament voted to postpone Brexit to avert a chaotic U.K. departure in two weeks.
May planned to spend the next few days trying to persuade opponents in her Conservative Party and its parliamentary allies to support the withdrawal agreement, which Parliament has resoundingly defeated twice. That left Britain facing a disruptive “no-deal” exit from the bloc on March 29, when a two-year countdown to the country’s departure runs out.
After months of political deadlock, Britain’s House of Commons voted 413-202 Thursday to ask the EU to delay the country’s exit.
The vote in itself won’t prevent Britain from crashing out of the bloc — an outcome that could mean major disruptions for businesses and people in both the U.K. and the 27 remaining EU countries.
By law, Britain will leave the EU on March 29 with or without a deal, unless it cancels Brexit or secures a delay from the EU.
Cabinet Office Minister David Lidington said the likelihood of a no-deal Brexit had “diminished” with Thursday’s votes. He said he hoped the U.K. would “leave as soon as possible in an orderly fashion” if Parliament backs May’s withdrawal agreement next week.
Pro-Brexit lawmakers in May’s Conservative Party have rejected her withdrawal deal — which lays out the terms of Britain’s departure and the outline of the country’s future relations with the EU — because they think it keeps Britain too closely bound to the bloc’s rules and regulations.
But May hopes they will change their mind if they face a choice between her deal or remaining in the EU.
The British government is holding talks with Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party, which has strongly opposed the Brexit divorce deal. The pro-British party thinks a guarantee in the agreement that there will be no customs checks or other obstacles between EU member Ireland and Northern Ireland after Brexit could weaken the bond between that region and the rest of the U.K.
May and her allies hope if the 10 DUP lawmakers can be persuaded to drop their opposition, many Brexiteer Conservatives will follow, giving her Brexit deal a fighting chance of winning Parliament’s backing.
Still, she faces a struggle to overturn the huge defeats for the agreement, which was rejected by 230 votes in Parliament in January and by 149 votes this week.
If her EU divorce deal is approved, May will seek a delay until June 30 to give time for Parliament to pass the legislation needed for Britain’s EU exit.
She has warned lawmakers opposing the agreement that if it is rejected, Britain will need a much longer extension that could see Brexit postponed indefinitely.
Success would be a remarkable turnaround for May, whose authority has been shredded by a series of defeats in Parliament. This week alone, lawmakers voted to defeat May’s withdrawal agreement, to rule out leaving the EU without a deal, and to seek a Brexit delay.
May’s government and her Conservative Party are divided and discipline has frayed, with several ministers refusing to back the government’s line in voting. In one unusual episode Thursday, Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay urged Parliament to support the government’s motion to seek a Brexit delay — then voted against it himself.
May is expected to hold another Parliament vote on her Brexit deal before Wednesday. The following day, she plans to attend an EU summit in Brussels, where she will formally ask the bloc for a Brexit extension.
Any delay must be approved unanimously by the 27 remaining EU nations, but they are quickly losing patience with Britain’s political disarray.
The European Parliament’s Brexit coordinator, Guy Verhofstadt, questioned why the EU should grant an extension if the British government is “not ready for a cross-party approach to break the current deadlock?”
German Justice Minister Katarina Barley said Britain must use any extra time productively. Barley, who is half British, told RBB radio on Friday that “giving more time alone will produce no solution.”
“I think the EU would be willing to give more time, but there must be some sort of a plan what should happen in this time,” she said.
David Rising in Berlin contributed to this story.
Follow AP’s full coverage of Brexit at: https://www.apnews.com/Brexit
3 days, 3 key votes – and no end in sight for Brexit
March 14, 2019
Scott L. Greer, Professor, Global Health Management and Policy and Political Science, University of Michigan
Garret Martin, Professorial Lecturer, American University School of International Service
Holly Jarman, John G. Searle Assistant Professor, University of Michigan
Disclosure statement: The authors do not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and have disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Partners: University of Michigan provides funding as a founding partner of The Conversation US. American University School of International Service provides funding as a member of The Conversation US.
On March 12, the British Parliament overwhelmingly rejected – for a second time – a Brexit plan worked out by Prime Minister Theresa May.
A day later, the lawmakers voted against a “hard Brexit” – one without any approved plan.
Then, on March 14, British lawmakers voted 412 to 202 to delay an exit from the European Union, which had been planned for March 29. They also voted not to call a second referendum to allow the British people to accept or reject Prime Minister May’s Brexit plan.
Three experts on the European Union consider the lasting effects of the delay and uncertainty.
A damaging spectacle
Garret Martin, American University, School of International Service
Another week of drama at the Palace of Westminster, host of the United Kingdom’s two houses of Parliament. The last three days witnessed a flurry of Brexit activities. Parliament scheduled multiple votes, debates, amendments. Factions inside Westminster jockeyed for control and Ministers resigned. And Prime Minister Theresa May literally lost her voice.
With the dust now settled, this much is clear. Members of Parliament (MPs), from across the major parties, still greatly dislike the withdrawal deal from the EU negotiated by Theresa May.
These same MPs also reject the option of crashing out of the EU without a deal. And they overwhelmingly supported requesting a delay for Brexit to happen, beyond the planned exit date of March 29, 2019. Such an extension, and its precise length, would still require the unanimous agreement of the 27 remaining states of the EU, which are scheduled to meet on March 21 and 22.
In other words, no one knows when the Brexit saga will end.
There’s no denying that Brexit, with its intrigue and uncertainty, is compelling viewing. Political junkies may think of it as “Game of Thrones” without the dragons and violence. That day-to-day focus can, however, easily obscure the fact that Brexit has been a complete calamity, one for which the U.K. is already paying high costs, and will continue to do so.
First, the spectacle of Parliament repeatedly failing to agree on a deal has greatly tarnished the reputation of the U.K. as a well-managed country. It is now 994 days and counting since the referendum in June 2016, with no clear end in sight.
Second, the endless bickering in Parliament and inability to compromise is fueling a deep disenchantment with politics. More than two-thirds of the public in the U.K. does not feel represented by current political parties.
And third, the prolonged Brexit negotiations are only further polarizing an already very divided British society.
Like all good shows, Brexit will eventually come to an end. But its legacy will be felt for years to come.
The Brexit unicorn has damaged British democracy
Scott L. Greer and Holly Jarman, University of Michigan
In the two years since it took place, it’s become clear that the Brexit referendum campaign was a gross failure of democratic politics.
The campaign was suffused with campaign finance illegalities and foreign interference. But it was also a debate in which every key term was undefined. No one who voted in the referendum could be certain what Brexit would look like.
Here’s a comparison. When Scots were asked to vote on independence from Britain in 2014, the Scottish government offered them a 649-page policy document on everything from post-independence fisheries management to the status of the queen.
But when British voters were invited to vote on Brexit, they were offered nowhere near as much information. There was no specification of what leaving would mean, how it would work or what the costs might be. Into the vacuum of information rushed misperception and lies.
Brexit remains ill-defined because it promised the impossible – a mythical unicorn of sovereignty, wealth, national greatness and reduced immigration. Such a package is attractive, but unavailable to a country of the U.K.‘s size, position and wealth.
There is no form of Brexit, for example, that can improve the National Health Service, as we and co-authors showed in a recent article. But many voters supported Brexit in the belief, encouraged by the Leave campaign, that Brexit would mean more money for publicly funded health care.
Competing demands from different groups to deliver the impossible have damaged the U.K.’s political system. That’s because, for many politicians, the politics of Brexit are now about avoiding the blame for the consequences of a damaging decision.
The problem with the politics of casting and avoiding blame is that finger-pointing and dodging finger-pointing can get in the way of solving problems. Brexit is a clear case of that.
The politics of the U.K. are now focused not on managing or fixing problems, but on blaming others for them. The focus on blaming others for divisive and dangerous Brexit policies will scar Britain for decades, since the politics of disunity and blame will live long after 2019.
Max Fisher: Here’s a comparison.
Scottish government offered them a 649-page policy document on everything from post-independence fisheries management to the status of the queen.
But when British voters were invited to vote on Brexit, they were offered nowhere near as much information.
The comparison demonstrates an equivalence – In both cases the political class made assumptions about the wishes of the populace and were wrong. For Scottish independence, they were so certain of “Yes”, so they prepared a thorough policy document for almost immediate implementation. For Brexit, they were so certain of “No” so they didn’t consider any details would be needed.
The equivalence, not a comparison of a difference, shows the political class has no understanding of the will of the electorate The “political class” includes the whole gamut who supported the failed vote as though no alternate attitude could possibly appeal to anyone – politicians, the media, and academics. Remove their blinkers.
the politics of Brexit are now about avoiding the blame for the consequences of a damaging decision
…politicians, the media, and academics. Remove their blinkers. It’s their foul deeds that have damaged decisions of their electorate.
Opinion: Gathering European Economic Storm Clouds
By Desmond Lachman
Anyone who thinks we are not on our way to another round of the European sovereign debt crisis has not been paying attention to the economic and political troubles currently besetting that continent. As Shakespeare might have put it, those troubles are coming to Europe not as single spies but as battalions.
Those combined troubles hardly bode well for the European and global economic outlook. This is especially the case considering that a number of Eurozone member countries, and most notably Italy, did not take advantage of the good economic times to reduce their very high public debt levels. This makes those countries particularly vulnerable to another European economic recession or to any loss of risk appetite in the global financial markets.
A disturbing feature of the current European economic landscape is that all of its major economies are being challenged simultaneously by a variety of meaningful economic and political challenges.
For a start, Germany, Europe’s largest and most dynamic economy, is now on the cusp of a recession as its highly export dependent economy is being hard hit by the marked Chinese slowdown. Further weighing on the German economy has been the U.S. Commerce Department’s recent classification of European automobiles as a national security threat and the Trump administration’s indication that it is considering imposing punitive tariffs on European automobile imports.
At a time that the German economy is stuttering, political problems are clouding economic prospects in the United Kingdom and France, Europe’s second and third largest economies, respectively.
Heightened investor uncertainty about the UK’s post-Brexit relationship with Europe has already moved the UK economy from being the G-7’s fastest growing economy to its slowest. Sadly, that uncertainty is likely to persist even should Theresa May succeed in preventing the UK from crashing out of Europe without a deal at the end of this month. Even were May somehow to get parliamentary approval for her Brexit deal, that would only be the prelude to protracted negotiations over the UK’s future economic relationship with Europe.
Meanwhile, in France, social unrest associated with the Yellow Jacket movement is seriously denting investor confidence in that country’s economy.
More troubling yet for the global economic outlook are the serious economic and political troubles besetting Italy, Europe’s fourth-largest economy and its second most highly indebted economy. Being around 10 times the size of the Greek economy and with a public debt totaling more than $2.5 trillion, an Italian debt crisis would have the real potential to roil the global financial system. All too likely it would do so in a very much more serious manner than did the earlier Greek debt crisis.
During the second half of last year, the Italian economy succumbed yet again to an economic recession. The last thing that it now needs is the simultaneous economic slowing of the German, United Kingdom and French economies. Stuck within a Euro straitjacket and saddled with a market-unfriendly populist government, it is difficult to see how Italy could grow its way out of its debt problem in those circumstances. This makes the Italian economy particularly vulnerable to any further loss of risk appetite in the global financial market.
As if troubles in its major economies were not sufficient cause for concern, economic reform and austerity fatigue seems to be on the rise in the Eurozone’s peripheral countries ahead of their elections scheduled later this year. A most recent example of this fatigue has been the decision by both the Greek and the Spanish governments to raise the minimum wage to levels that those countries can ill-afford.
Fortunately this time around, as the European economy shows clear signs of slowing, the European Central Bank (ECB) does not appear to be asleep at the wheel. Instead, last week in addition to slashing its European economic forecast, the ECB announced an abrupt policy U-turn. It did so by taking any interest rate increase off the table for next year as well as by indicating that it stood ready to revisit its decision to reduce the size of its balance sheet.
Welcome as the ECB policy U-turn might be, it would not appear nearly sufficient to right the ailing European economy. Rather, for that to occur, one must hope that those countries in Europe, most notably Germany, with the fiscal space to do so, will use that fiscal space to provide the European economy with a much needed budget stimulus. It would also help matters if the Trump administration were to back off any notion of imposing automobile import tariffs on an already troubled European economy.
In framing economic policy, global and U.S. policymakers would do well to recall that the European economy is larger than that of China. As such, a setback in that economy must be expected to have large spillover effects for the rest of the global economy that would all too likely reach our shores.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Desmond Lachman is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. He was formerly a deputy director in the International Monetary Fund’s Policy Development and Review Department and the chief emerging market economic strategist at Salomon Smith Barney. He wrote this for InsideSources.com.