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
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
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
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.