Theresa May, U.K. prime minister, left, is greeted by Angela Merkel, Germany’s chancellor, ahead of talks at the Chancellery in Berlin, Germany. (Photographer: Krisztian Bocsi/Bloomberg)

May Said to Warn Merkel, Macron Their Brexit Deal Is Almost Dead

(Bloomberg) -- Theresa May privately warned Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel that the Brexit deal is dead unless they compromise, after European leaders rebuffed her requests for help selling the agreement to politicians in London.

May delivered the message during a private 15-minute meeting with the French and German leaders, Dutch premier Mark Rutte and European Council President Donald Tusk at the end of a bad-tempered summit in Brussels on Friday, according to a person familiar with the matter.

The prime minister told the four that the U.K. and the European Union will have reached the end of the road after 18 months of exit negotiations unless they give further assurances on the most contentious part of the package -- the back-up plan for the Irish border.

Britain leaves the club of 28 countries on March 29 and May is battling to save the agreement she’s negotiated with the EU from being killed off by opponents in Parliament. If May can’t find a plan that Parliament will accept, the U.K. will be on course to crash out of the bloc without a deal to cushion the blow, causing economic damage that British authorities predict could include a 25 percent fall in the value of the pound and a 30 percent crash in house prices.

No Chance

During Friday’s meeting with the four leaders, May said the U.K.-EU deal had no chance of surviving as written because her own Conservative Party and Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party -- which props up her minority government -- will never support the so-called Irish backstop in its current form.

The backstop is designed to ensure that the border between the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland remains open with goods trade flowing freely. There are fears that any return to customs and border checks could revive the sectarian conflict in the region that only came to an end with a peace deal in 1998.

Under the backstop plan, Northern Ireland will remain inside the EU’s customs union, with the rest of the U.K. tied into the bloc’s customs territory too. The problem for pro-Brexit members of May’s Tory party is that there is no way for Britain to leave the backstop without the EU’s agreement.

In Brussels, May’s team floated a 12-month deadline for ending the backstop and bringing a new trade deal on stream. While European officials initially seemed open to discussing the idea, talks between May and her fellow leaders broke up acrimoniously, without any new offers on the table.

European leaders repeated their warnings that there can be no new legal guarantees for the U.K. on the way the backstop operates, dashing May’s hopes for a compromise to save the Brexit deal.

If the EU does not make any fresh attempts in the coming days, the prime minister believes she may as well put the doomed withdrawal agreement to a vote in Parliament, where British politicians will kill it off, according to a person familiar with the matter.

May postponed a parliamentary vote on the deal scheduled for Dec. 11 because she said she knew it would be rejected by a significant margin. Two days later she faced a crisis of her own, as Tories tried to oust her as their leader in a vote of confidence. While she survived, May’s task of steering the U.K. out of the EU in an orderly way in March looks harder than ever.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.