May faces challenges on all fronts
BRUSSELS, Jan 29, (Agencies): European Union ministers on Monday formally agreed demands for a transition period that gives Britain access to the EUs single market for nearly two years after Brexit, without having any policy-making power. Sabine Weyand, the EU’s deputy chief negotiator, said a meeting of European affairs ministers in Brussels “adopts guidelines for Brexit negotiations within two minutes: status quo transition without institutional representation, lasting … to 31 December 2020.”
Meanwhile, European Union government ministers on Monday warned Britain that it cannot expect to have a say in EU decision-making once it leaves, including during a transition period from next year meant to help smooth the UK’s departure. The warning came as European affairs ministers met to endorse a new set of orders for their Brexit negotiator focused on that transition, which would run from the end of March 2019 until Dec 31, 2020, when the bloc’s current long-term budget ends. “When you have left the European Union you have left, and this is just a transition to a new arrangement,” Swedish EU Affairs and Trade Minister Ann Linde told reporters in Brussels. In a draft of the orders, seen by The Associated Press, the EU insists that its departing member should also continue to abide by all the bloc’s rules, including any new ones that are introduced.
This has already raised concern in Britain, with London’s Brexit negotiator, David Davis, demanding last week “a way of resolving concerns if laws are deemed to run contrary to our interests and we have not had our say.” “It’s very, very important,” he said, that “if there are new laws that affect us, we have the means to resolve any issues during that period.” But Irish European Affairs Minister Helen McEntee said Monday that “what we cannot have is a position where the integrity of the single market, the customs union, is in any way undermined.”
“When the UK leave the European Union they will not be a voice around the table,” she said. The bridging period would also allow Prime Minister Theresa May’s government to prepare its future trade ties with the wider world but London would not be able to introduce any trade pact before 2021 without permission from its EU partners. In related news, Prime Minister May came under further pressure over her Brexit blueprint on Monday, with members of the upper house of parliament saying there were “fundamental flaws” in a law crucial to the departure.
The law has also deepened splits in her Conservative Party, which has for years been divided over Britain’s relations with the European Union. It is yet another battle for a weakened prime minister whose leadership is being questioned after scandals within her party, gaffes and an illjudged election that lost her party its majority in parliament. Facing calls to axe her finance minister, who favours a gentle Brexit, and criticism over a lack of big ideas to revive the fortunes of the Conservatives, May needs to drive through legislation to sever ties with the EU before March next year.
The largely pro-EU House of Lords, which will start debating the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill on Tuesday, have made no secret of their opposition to the legislation which they say amounts to little more than a power grab by the government. It is designed to put current EU legislation into British law essentially in one move, allowing for changes later. “We acknowledge the scale, challenge and unprecedented nature of the task of converting existing EU law into UK law, but as it stands this bill is constitutionally unacceptable,” said Ann Taylor, head of the infl uential Constitution Committee. “The bill grants ministers overlybroad powers to do whatever they think is ‘appropriate’ to correct ‘deficiencies’ in retained EU law,” the committee said in a report.