“legally binding” guarantees to Brexit deal agreed with EU: UK

Vastavam web: Prime Minister Theresa May said Monday she has secured “legally binding” guarantees from the EU designed to get the Brexit deal through the British parliament and avert a chaotic withdrawal. She announced the move after a late evening dash to Strasbourg to hammer out the changes with top European officials, as the clock ticked down to Britain’s scheduled divorce from the bloc on March 29.

European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker warned that the stakes were increasingly high, ahead of a vote by British lawmakers on the deal on Tuesday. “The choice is clear: it is this deal, or Brexit may not happen at all. Let’s bring the UK’s withdrawal to an orderly end,” the former Luxembourg premier told reporters, sitting next to May at a late-night press conference in the French city. “Now is the time to come together, to back this improved Brexit deal, and to deliver on the instruction of the British people.” UK lawmakers will study the new proposals before holding a vote on the divorce deal Tuesday, with just 17 days remaining before Britain’s planned split from the bloc after 46 years.

Britain’s House of Commons overwhelmingly defeated the deal in January and was expected to do so again on Tuesday without meaningful change. Another defeat in parliament could see Britain sever ties with its closest trading partner on March 29 with no new arrangements, causing huge disruption on both sides of the Channel. It would also raise the possibility of postponing Brexit, after May promised to allow MPs a vote later this week on whether to accept a “no deal” scenario or request a short delay from the EU.

“We will certainly analyse that very, very carefully,” said Nigel Dodds of Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), part of May’s coalition government. The DUP’s support is crucial if the deal is to pass the House of Commons. May’s trip to Strasbourg caused concern among some MPs, who had complained they may not have enough time to scrutinise what May agreed before being asked to vote. “Is this incompetence or is this just contempt for parliament?” said opposition Labour MP Yvette Cooper.

May’s initial deal was struck after 18 months of tough negotiations, and covers Britain’s financial settlement, expatriate rights, the Irish border and plans for a transition period. This would keep Britain in the EU customs union and parts of its single market until and unless another way — such as a trade deal — is found to avoid frontier checks.

Juncker said May and he have agreed a “legal instrument” to ease British concerns over the backstop. Many MPs fear it is a “trap” to keep them tied to EU rules, but Brussels has rejected calls for a time limit or unilateral exit clause. “It is harder to leave the backstop than it is to leave the EU,” claimed Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg, an influential Brexiteer. May has promised Britain will leave the EU whatever happens on March 29, but many MPs fear that a “no deal” exit would wreak economic havoc.

Any postponement would have to be approved by the leaders of the other 27 nations, who are next meeting at a Brussel’s summit on March 21 and 22 — a week before Brexit day. Nigel Farage, who spearheaded the campaign that led to Britons voting in the June 2016 referendum to leave the EU, held firm. “This is all words and twisted meanings. Nothing has changed. Reject. Reject. Reject,” Farage tweeted. Britain’s main opposition Labour Party also came out against the agreement.