Tuesday

18th Sep 2018

Brexit talks resume as chance of 'no deal' put at 50:50

  • With the clock ticking, Brexit talks are bogged down in how to avoid a hard Irish border (Photo: Peter Teffer)

UK officials are in Brussels again on Thursday (16 August) to discuss the future border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland with EU officials.

How to prevent a 'hard border' on the Irish island has remained one of the most difficult sticking points in the UK-EU talks for an agreement between the two sides dealing with how the UK will leave the bloc.

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  • The Northern Irish/Republic of Ireland border post at Strabane, in the 1970s (Photo: henrikjon)

The talks will not be attended by the UK's recently-appointed new Brexit minister Dominic Raab or the EU's main Brexit man Michel Barnier, but rather by lower-level civil servants.

They take place as more and more politicians openly discuss the possibilities of a 'no-deal scenario'.

On Wednesday, Latvia's foreign minister said there was a 50 percent chance that the two sides would not be able to conclude a deal by 29 March 2019, which would mean the UK would leave the EU in a completely unpredictable manner.

"Frankly, at this point I would rate it 50:50 – 50:50 is a very considerable risk," said Edgars Rinkevics.

"None of us want no deal, none of us are working towards that, I think it would be damaging for both this country and the EU," he noted, adding that a deal was needed by autumn.

That timeline would allow parliaments in member states time to ratify the agreement.

Rinkevics spoke on the occasion of a visit by Britain's new foreign minister, Jeremy Hunt, who is touring several northern European states to push prime minister Theresa May's white paper on Brexit.

Hunt told press in Helsinki that the risk of a no-deal Brexit had been "increasing recently".

"Everyone needs to prepare for the possibility of a chaotic no-deal Brexit," he said.

He said that he hoped to avoid it, but warned "a change in approach" was needed from the European Commission.

Earlier this week, Barnier's deputy, Sabine Weyand, said in a tweet that there was no guarantee the negotiators would succeed, and that EU companies needed to "prepare for a disorderly Brexit".

RTE quoted Irish senator Neale Richmond on Thursday (16 August) calling the idea that 'no deal is better than a bad deal' – as May once said – was a myth.

"Flights would be grounded, crops will rot in the ground, there will be a run on the banks, trucks will be stuck at ports and a hard border would be a target for dissident paramilitaries," said Richmond.

Press reports have interpreted Hunt's trip, and that of other UK cabinet ministers across the European continent this summer, as an attempt to divide the 27 remaining EU member states – represented by Barnier.

Rinkevics stressed that the 27 were united.

The Guardian newspaper wrote on Wednesday that one of its sources called the suggestion that UK prime minister May would want to discuss Brexit at an informal EU summit in Salzburg next month "completely ridiculous".

"It would mean that we would ditch our negotiating approach of the last two years and discuss at 28 instead of 27 to one, and I don't see why this would happen," the source told the Guardian.

Stopping Brexit?

Meanwhile, some of those that want the UK to remain in the EU have not given up the prospect of cancelling Brexit.

A group of UK citizens living in other EU countries launched a legal challenge this week, calling for the annulment of the 2016 referendum result.

They argue that because two groups promoting the leave argument broke campaign spending rules, the UK's High Court should declare the result null and void.

"We hope to demonstrate that you can't win by cheating," said Sue Wilson, a Briton living in Spain, according to the Independent.

"If there is another referendum, there mustn't be a repeat of the illegal activity witnessed last time round," she said.

On Wednesday, another legal challenge related to Brexit took place in Edinburgh.

Plaintiffs have asked a Scottish court to ask the European Court of Justice whether the UK could unilaterally prevent Brexit.

The request is about article 50 of the EU treaty, which governs exiting the EU.

Lawyer Jo Maugham told Reuters that he wanted clarity whether the UK parliament could withdraw article 50 without agreement from the 27 other EU states, to keep the "option of treating Brexit as just a bad dream".

In any case, the consequences of Brexit have started becoming more clear than before the referendum.

"I think it is only now the British public and British government understand how complex, how difficult this kind of Brexit is, and that it is very difficult to build the future relationship," said Rinkevics.

The future relationship will be on the agenda for EU-UK talks on Friday.

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