Brexit Talks Stall as EU Makes Offer the U.K. Already Rejected
(Bloomberg) -- Brexit talks grew more hostile as the European Union unveiled a new concession aimed at breaking the deadlock which U.K. negotiators had already rejected.
With just four days to go until British Prime Minister Theresa May has to take her Brexit deal back to the parliament that vetoed it by a historic margin in January, there’s no sign of a breakthrough in talks and the tone is increasingly acrimonious. Chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier told ambassadors on Friday the blame game had started, according to a person familiar with the situation.
If the deal is rejected next week, Britain will be plunged into political chaos as the plan to exit the bloc will likely be delayed, redefined or even scrapped.
Barnier announced on Twitter a new package of concessions to resolve the contentious issue of the Irish border backstop. The most striking was to allow it to apply just to Northern Ireland, rather than the whole of the U.K. But May has long said this would be unacceptable, and negotiators had already rejected it on Tuesday, according to another person familiar with the talks.
The EU also offered to strengthen other provisions in the deal -- on arbitration and good-faith clauses -- but the U.K. side said it wasn’t enough.
“Now is not the time to rerun old arguments,” U.K. Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay said on Twitter. “The U.K. has put forward clear new proposals. We now need to agree a balanced solution that can work for both sides.”
Officials from both the U.K. and EU are growing pessimistic that a deal can be done in time for Tuesday, when May puts the deal to Parliament. One European diplomat said there had been a complete breakdown in trust. The EU may now be taking it for granted that British politicians will reject the deal, and vote to extend the exit day deadline instead as a way of avoiding the chaotic no-deal exit that both sides want to avoid.
Briefings have become more aggressive as frustration mounts. Attorney General Geoffrey Cox -- sent in by May to renegotiate the backstop because his views were respected by Brexiteers at home -- has riled negotiators in Brussels, according to European officials. The U.K., meanwhile, accuses the EU of intransigence.
May used a speech on Friday to put the ball in the bloc’s court, saying “the EU has to make a choice too.” Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt bolstered that message, calling on the EU to avoid making a historic mistake, and poisoning future relations. “If this ends in acrimony, people will say the EU got this moment wrong,” he said.
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