EU leaders deliver pointed snub to Theresa May

Danish prime minister says it is now up to House of Commons to do its ‘homework’

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar arrives at a European Union leaders summit in Brussels. Video: Reuters

 

EU leaders last night delivered a pointed snub to beleaguered British prime minister Theresa May.

They gave her political assurances that they see the backstop as a temporary measure, but refused to craft a legally binding declaration to that effect as she had sought. The leaders removed from a draft of the European Council conclusions a suggestion that they were “ready to examine whether any further assurance can be provided”.

The amendment does not mean that they will not provide such assurances, but, as European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker said “it is up to the British government to say what they want”.

It is expected that London will want to return in January with proposed wording for consideration by the council of any protocol, declaration, or clarification which it might like attached to the withdrawal treaty.

Some comfort

The leaders did provide some comfort to May. The conclusions say that they “stand ready to embark on preparations immediately after signature of the Withdrawal Agreement to ensure that negotiations can start as soon as possible after the UK’s withdrawal. . . It is the union’s firm determination to work speedily on a subsequent agreement that establishes by 31st December, 2020, alternative arrangements, so that the backstop will not need to be triggered.

“The European Council also underlines that, if the backstop were nevertheless to be triggered, it would apply temporarily, unless and until it is superseded by a subsequent agreement that ensures that a hard border is avoided.”

The text adds the explicit reference to the avoidance of a hard border. “In such a case,” the conclusions continue, “the union would use its best endeavours to negotiate and conclude expeditiously a subsequent agreement that would replace the backstop, and would expect the same of the United Kingdom, so that the backstop would only be in place for as long as strictly necessary.”

Irish sensitivities

The draft was also amended to remove from that last sentence a reference to only being “in place for a short period” – the deletion reflects sensitivities by the Irish among others to any suggestion that the backstop would be time-limited.

They said that they wish to establish as close as possible a partnership with the United Kingdom in the future. And the leaders emphasised the need to step up “work on preparedness at all levels for the consequences of the UK’s withdrawal to be intensified, taking into account all possible outcomes.” With or without a deal.

Echoing Juncker’s sentiments Danish prime minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen on his way out of the meeting placed firm responsibility for the next step on the House of Commons.

“Someday – somebody needs to say it. And you have to say – openly – that it is necessary that you get some homework done in the British parliament which has handled this challenge very different to what Denmark did, when the Danes voted No to Maastricht or as the Irish did when they voted No to Lisbon.

“In both countries someone took the responsibility on them to decide what do we do. In both Denmark and Ireland somebody took upon themselves to say what can unite us on our country and what should we ask from Europe. And here you need to say openly that it is that need you have in the United Kingdom now.”

BREXIT: The Facts

Read them here
The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.