No-deal Brexit imminent if UK doesn’t get serious, warns EU

Published September 19, 2019
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker gestures as he speaks during a debate on Brexit at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, northeastern France on September 18. — AFP
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker gestures as he speaks during a debate on Brexit at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, northeastern France on September 18. — AFP

STRASBOURG: The European Union’s two top officials handling troublesome Brexit talks warned on Wednesday the risk of a no-deal exit looms large unless British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government swiftly offers concrete proposals.

“The risk of a no deal remains very real. That will maybe be the choice of the United Kingdom but never the choice of the European Union,” European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker told the European Parliament in Strasbourg.

If that happens, “the consequences are much more serious, much more numerous than you want to say,” added EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier in remarks directed at pro-Brexit MEPs.

“After Brexit, you will be accountable to the citizens,” he told them.

The warnings came two days after Juncker and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson met in Luxembourg for talks and just six weeks before Britain is set to exit the bloc.

That trip ended in humiliation for Johnson when he avoided what was meant to be a joint press conference with his Luxembourg counterpart, put-off by a small anti-Brexit protest nearby.

Juncker emphasised Britain still has not offered any viable solutions to rewrite a withdrawal agreement struck by Johnson’s predecessor but rejected three times by the British parliament. “I am not sure” a new deal will be reached, Juncker said.

“We have very little time left. But I am sure we must try,” said the Commission chief, whose mandate ends on October 31 — the deadline for Britain to leave the EU.

The strident messages came as Brussels and London blamed each other for moving towards a chaotic no-deal Brexit.

Barnier said “it is certainly not a question of pretending to negotiate,” adding: “It is our responsibility to pursue this process with determination, with sincerity.” His words were taken as a dig at Johnson, who is seen by many in Brussels and London as running down the clock so that Britain leaves the EU at the end of next month with or without a new deal.

If so, Johnson risks falling foul of a law hastily passed by the UK parliament requiring him to ask for another Brexit delay — a third — by October 19 if no new deal is worked out with the EU.

Britain’s parliament is currently suspended at Johnson’s initiative in a move being challenged in the Supreme Court in London.

Adding pressure, the European Parliament on Wednesday voted a resolution noting the UK parliament’s law on asking for another Brexit delay, but stressing there must be “reasons and a purpose for such an extension”.

Published in Dawn, September 19th, 2019

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