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EU Pressures Britain on Brexit Deal    11/12 06:19

   BRUSSELS (AP) -- Britain's European Union partners on Monday ratcheted up 
political pressure on Prime Minister Theresa May amid signs that some progress 
is being made in Brexit negotiations.

   Britain leaves the EU on March 29 --- the first country ever to do so --- 
but a deal must be sealed in the coming weeks to leave enough time for the U.K. 
Parliament and European Parliament to sign off.

   At a meeting of EU affairs ministers in Brussels on Monday, the bloc's 
Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, "explained that intense negotiating efforts 
continue, but an agreement has not been reached yet."

   "Some key issues remain under discussion," he told them, according to a 
statement from EU headquarters.

   The main obstacle to an agreement is how to keep goods flowing smoothly 
across the border between EU country Ireland and Northern Ireland in the U.K.

   All parties have committed to avoid a "hard border" with costly and 
time-consuming checks that would hamper business. Any new customs posts on the 
border could also re-ignite lingering sectarian tensions.

   "The ball is in the British court. It is a question of a British political 
decision," France's EU affairs minister, Nathalie Loiseau, told reporters at EU 
headquarters.

   Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders agreed, saying that the EU is 
"waiting for new news from London."

   "We have time but not so much," he added.

   The EU is awaiting Barnier's signal as to whether sufficient progress has 
been made to call an EU summit to seal a deal.

   Signs have emerged in recent days that some progress is being made behind 
the scenes.

   Austrian EU affairs minister, Gernot Bluemel --- whose country holds the 
EU's rotating presidency until the end of the year --- said "there is a certain 
dynamic in the negotiations, but it is too early to say how we are going to 
proceed on that."

   On Thursday, Finnish Prime Minister Juha Sipila said that major progress was 
likely "within a week," based on his Brexit discussions with several EU leaders 
who visited Helsinki.

   "We're going through crucial days now. We're very close now," Sipila said.

   Germany's EU affairs minister, Michael Roth, underlined Monday that "the 
clock is ticking."

   "The room for maneuver is very much limited and our British friends know 
exactly where our discussions are," he said.

   Domestic pressure has also increased on May, after a transport minister in 
her government resigned last week.

   Jo Johnson, younger brother of former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, 
backed calls for a second referendum on whether the country should leave the EU.

   His call to test voter sentiment further complicates matters for May as she 
tries to strike a deal with EU leaders that would pass muster with her own 
cabinet and win backing in Parliament.

   She has consistently rejected the idea of another nationwide vote on Brexit.

   Pro-Brexit and pro-EU politicians alike are warning that the deal she seeks 
is likely to be shot down by Parliament.

   Boris Johnson, a staunch Brexiteer, wrote in a column for Monday's Daily 
Telegraph that May's plan to adhere closely to EU regulations in return for a 
trade deal and an open Irish border amounts to "total surrender" to the bloc.

   The proposed terms are scarcely more popular with advocates of continued EU 
membership.

   Former Education Secretary Justine Greening on Monday called May's proposals 
the "worst of all worlds," and said the public should be allowed to vote again.

   "We should be planning as to how we can put this final say on Brexit in the 
hands of the British people," Greening told the BBC.

    


(KA)

 
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