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May seeks Brexit fix in talks with rivals

January 18, 2019

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LONDON/PARIS: British Prime Minister Theresa May scrambled to put together a new Brexit strategy on Thursday with cross-party talks after MPs sparked political turmoil by rejecting her previous agreement with the EU.

May reached out to rival parties on Wednesday night shortly after surviving a no-confidence vote, hoping to hammer out a Brexit fix that she could present to parliament on Monday.

Just over two months remain before the world’s fifth-largest economy is due to leave the EU, its closest trading partner, after 46 years. But the island nation is still embroiled in many of the same arguments that were raging when voters defied government warnings and voted to leave in a 2016 referendum.

May’s olive branch offer came after a hectic 24 hours that saw her Brexit deal defeated by a historic margin in one vote and her government then cling on to power in a second one, by a narrow margin of 325 to 306. May conceded in a Wednesday night television address to the nation that Britons might find the political upheaval “unsettling”. She called on the opposition Labour party and its smaller pro-EU allies “to put self-interest aside” and attempt to find a solution to end the deadlock.

“The government approaches these meetings in a constructive spirit and I urge others to do the same,” she said.

But May ran into immediate hurdles as top MPs set out demands and conditions contradictory to the government’s current stance.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said he would only sit down with May if she ruled out the possibility of a “no-deal Brexit”.

That scenario would see trade barriers go up overnight as existing agreements between Britain and the EU expire on March 29.

France activates plan for no-deal Brexit

The French government has activated its plans for handling the effects of a no-deal Brexit, which has become “less and less unlikely”, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said on Thursday.

Speaking after a ministerial meeting called to discuss the British parliament’s rejection of the divorce deal negotiated with the EU, Philippe said: “I have taken the decision to activate the plan for a no-deal Brexit.” The plan provides for 50 million euros ($56 million) of investment in French ports and airports, “which are obviously the places most affected by the changes needed” in the event of Britain crashing out of the EU without a deal.

“In some ports that will be the construction of car parks, in others it will be the establishment of infrastructure for carrying out checks,” Philippe said. France also plans on recruiting 580 additional customs staff and veterinary inspectors. The French parliament is expected to complete the adoption of a bill on Thursday allowing the government to pass

five decrees covering preparations for a no-deal Brexit, which could create chaotic scenes on both sides of the Channel.

“We want to be ready to protect the interests of our citizens,” Philippe said.

“Our objective is at the same time to respect our obligations, to make sure that the lives of our citizens and, in a way, British citizens living in France are impacted as little as possible,” he added. The government has drawn up five decrees, slated for adoption after being vetted by the country’s Council of State.

Published in Dawn, January 18th, 2019