Amid signs that Europe is prepared to give Theresa May a bit more time, the prime minister is preparing another proposal on the sensitive issue of the Irish border in an effort to break the deadlock. And Ireland is open to having a look at it.
“I expressed my willingness to consider that because I want to move things forward as well,” Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar told reporters late on Wednesday.
May also spoke to Arlene Foster of the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party on Wednesday – there wasn’t much sign of flexibility there. The party that props up May’s government – and defines itself by its mission to keep Northern Ireland in the U.K. – is demanding significant changes to May’s previous proposal, which would have left the enclave aligned with rules in the Republic of Ireland and therefore risked putting up a border between Northern Ireland and mainland Britain.
Adding to the tension on Wednesday night, Sinn Fein, the party that wants a united Ireland, held a protest in Belfast against a hard border with the Republic and unveiled a mural calling on Varadkar to use his “veto” to press his case, the BBC reports. A separate rally called for the territory to have special status inside the EU’s single market. Northern Ireland voters opted to remain in the referendum, but the biggest party, the DUP, is pro-Brexit.
While Irish officials were increasingly pessimistic earlier on Wednesday that a deal could be reached this month, Varadkar’s openness to looking at another proposal reflects Dublin’s opposing interests. Ireland wants talks to move on to trade and, after the U.K., has the most to lose from a messy exit. A no-deal Brexit would make a hard border on the island almost inevitable.
Meanwhile in Brussels, there are signs EU officials are willing to be flexible on the deadline they set ahead of the key summit on Dec. 14-15. The bloc had said that this week was the “deadline of deadlines” as the proposals May brings need to go through the EU machinery before leaders can announce a common position at the summit. But the tone softened on Wednesday, Ian Wishart reports. European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker is willing to meet May right up until the summit, officials said. One diplomat said the hard deadline is now Dec. 11, the day representatives of EU leaders meet in Brussels to prepare their position for the summit. Remember when Dec. 4 was the absolute cutoff?
Spilling the Beans | The Cabinet hasn’t had a formal discussion about what the future trade relationship with the EU should look like, Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond revealed on Wednesday. It was what many had long suspected, particularly after Boris Johnson and Michael Gove’s protests of the last two days. But it was the first confirmation, and contrasts with efforts on the EU side to start discussing the kind of deal it wants. The EU’s position is that the U.K. should get a deal a bit like the one Canada struck – the best in class for EU trade agreements, but well short of what the U.K. enjoys now.
Who Needs Numbers | The other revelation on Wednesday was that the Cabinet decided to leave the customs union without a careful look at the numbers. David Davis told lawmakers that while “qualitative” assessments were made, there was no “quantitative” study. In the same sitting, he also revealed that the government didn’t in fact have a series of studies on the impact of Brexit on different parts of the economy, drawing accusations that he’d misled lawmakers.
Brexit Tories Anxious | Pro-Brexit Tory lawmakers are upping the pressure on May not to go soft. Peter Bone offered to accompany her to Brussels for the next round of negotiations, Jacob Rees-Mogg asked her if her “red lines” were fading to pink, and Bernard Jenkin urged her to focus on free trade deals beyond Europe. While all were impeccably polite, they were reminding her that she faces a revolt if she’s seen to be softening her position.
Davis Maneuvers? | Davis supporters are testing the waters with a bid to replace May by Christmas, the Sun reports.
Worst Outcome | It’s difficult, if not impossible, to envisage a worse outcome for the U.K. than a “no-deal” Brexit, according to a report from the House of Lords. Not only would it be economically damaging, it would “bring an abrupt end to cooperation between the U.K. and EU on issues such as counterterrorism, police and security and nuclear safeguards. It would also necessitate the imposition of controls at the Irish land border.” The government’s line that no deal is better than a bad deal is “not helpful.”
Brexit Cloud | The head of the country’s main business lobby group says uncertainty around Brexit looms over every aspect of corporate Britain. It affects hiring, construction and investment decisions across the country. EU citizens will leave the country, and companies will shift jobs and investments abroad if May doesn’t chart a clear direction for the country soon, Confederation of British Industry President Paul Drechsler is set to say in a speech. “Every day, companies are having to plan for the worst while hoping for the best. They are making choices that will determine new jobs, new plants and new investments in the years ahead. Businesses will press snooze for as long as they can – but the alarm will go off,” he will say. Financial firms will start to make their “no turning back” decisions from January.
Business Pressure | The majority of British businesses expect their costs to rise over the next year as a result of weakness in the pound, but almost half are doing nothing to mitigate their foreign exchange risk, according to the British Chamber of Commerce.
On the Markets | But maybe they don’t need to. Currency strategists expect the pound to strengthen next year as a lot of bad news on Brexit is already priced in, Bloomberg’s John Ainger reports.
The Irish prime minister seems to be getting an electoral boost from bashing Britain and the DUP. Support for his Fine Gael party is up 5 points from October to 36 percent, a poll showed today.