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Brexit Negotiators Are Said to Work on New Text as Time Runs Out

By Bloomberg 19 February 2019
Caption
Jean-Claude Juncker Photographer: Jasper Juinen/Bloomberg

U.K. and European officials are working on a new legal text for the most contentious part of the Brexit deal, but time is running out for Prime Minister Theresa May to persuade a fracturing Parliament to unite behind her plan.

As May sent ministers across the European Union to seek concessions, seven Labour MPs split from Britain’s main opposition party, shifting the political landscape and complicating the premier’s calculations over Brexit. She also faced a coordinated attempt by members of her own Cabinet to force her to take the threat of a no-deal divorce off the table.

The division and disarray led the European Commission to again raise the prospect of delaying the U.K.’s departure.

“We are in God’s hands,” Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said. “It is like being before the courts or on the high seas,” he told Germany’s Stuttgarter Zeitung.

The U.K. is due to leave the EU in just over five weeks and currently there is no agreement in place for the trade terms that will apply between the two. If no deal is reached before the March 29 deadline, economists predict a serious blow to the U.K. economy, including a hit to the pound of as much as 25 percent, a fall in house prices by as much as 30 percent and a possible recession.

Parliamentary Patience

In Brussels on Monday, May’s Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay and Attorney General Geoffrey Cox met EU officials in an effort to reach a compromise. May’s aides believe she has until Feb. 27 to get a better deal before Parliament runs out of patience and votes to take control of the process.

Barclay and Cox will return to Brussels on Wednesday, according to people familiar with the matter. They will discuss the precise legal wording and form of a new assurance on the most difficult part of the deal: the so-called backstop plan for avoiding a hard border between the U.K. and Ireland.

On another day of fast-moving developments:

Labour MPs including Chuka Umunna and Luciana Berger quit the party and said they will sit as independents in protest at Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership. The party’s deputy leader Tom Watson warned more could follow. News broke that auto-maker Honda plans to close its plant in Swindon, western England, by 2022, a politician representing the area said. EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier said the bloc remains open to the idea of a permanent customs union if British red lines shift. DM

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