UK PM May dives into flurry of diplomacy in bid to clinch Brexit deal

World

LONDON (Reuters) – British Prime Minister Theresa May steps up attempts to court European support for a draft Brexit deal on Thursday as negotiations on securing a smooth divorce from the world’s biggest trading bloc enter their final stages.

Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May stands at the door of 10 Downing Street in London, Britain, October 24, 2018. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls

Less than five months before Britain is due to leave the EU on March 29, a deal is 95 percent done. But officials have repeatedly cautioned they are still haggling over the fate of the land border between British-ruled Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland.

The EU wants to see a breakthrough within a week if leaders are to endorse any Brexit deal in November, official and diplomatic sources told Reuters. An EU summit tentatively scheduled for Nov. 17-18 is no longer on the cards.

After May discussed Brexit with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and European Council President Donald Tusk earlier this week, British ministers were shown the text of a deal which is 95 percent agreed.

May will meet other EU leaders on Thursday in France and Belgium at commemorations to mark the 100th anniversary of the end of World War One. She is scheduled to have lunch with French President Emmanuel Macron and dinner with other leaders of the NATO military alliance in Brussels.

The deal – or the lack of one – will shape Britain’s prosperity for generations to come and have long-term consequences for the European Union’s global clout.

Both sides need an agreement to keep trade flowing between the world’s biggest trading bloc and the fifth largest global economy. The other 27 members of the EU combined have about five times the economic might of Britain.

DEAL OR NO DEAL?

Ever since the shock 2016 Brexit referendum sent sterling to its biggest one-day fall in decades, the pound has been see-sawing on differing perceptions of whether a deal will be done.

May told her cabinet on Tuesday that more time was needed to clear the final hurdle standing between her and a deal: the plan to ensure no hard border emerges on the island of Ireland.

Some of her senior ministers, such as Brexiteer Michael Gove, want to see the verdict of British government lawyers on how a post-Brexit plan for Northern Ireland’s border might work. A Northern Irish political party, the DUP, which props up her minority government, wants the advice to be published in full.

There is only a slim chance that an agreement between British and EU negotiators can be reached in time to hold a summit of leaders in November to sign off the agreement, according to one British official.

May wants a deal – both on a withdrawal agreement and a framework for future ties – before year-end as she must get the deal approved by the British parliament. The EU holds a regular summit on Dec. 13-14.

“We are not there yet. The clock is ticking. The choices need to be made now on the UK side,” EU negotiator Michel Barnier told reporters on Wednesday. “There are still important issues outstanding.”

If May fails to clinch a Brexit deal with the EU, or parliament votes down her deal, then Britain would face leaving without a divorce deal, and thus without a transition period.

Many business chiefs and investors fear such a “no-deal” Brexit would weaken the West, panic financial markets and block the arteries of trade.

Writing by Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Peter Graff

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