In Depth

Can EU help the UK out of Brexit mess?

EU’s chief Brexit negotiator ready to open discussions - if Theresa May is willing to change ‘red lines’

Theresa May last night faced a defeat of historic proportions as Parliament voted down her deal on how the UK would leave the European Union.

This evening her government faces a vote of no confidence as it has become clear that it does not have the numbers to fulfil its central purpose: to secure a negotiated Brexit agreement.

“Britain is now entering a period of rolling, daily crises with no obvious way out, its political class unable - or unwilling - to reach compromise on what to do next,” says Politico.

So could it be the EU that helps Westminster out?

Mario Centeno, chair of the eurozone and the Portuguese finance minister, has said: “We can open all the dossiers. We need to take informed decisions with total calm and avoid a no-deal exit. Practically anything is better than a no-deal exit.”

Most EU leaders seem to agree that a no-deal Brexit is the least favourable option, but the onus is still on the UK to make compromises and come up with new solutions.

President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker and European Council President Donald Tusk appealed for clarity from the UK, while Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, told the European Parliament this morning that the EU was ready to open discussions - if May was willing to change her “red lines”.

One way forward, he indicated, was for the UK to abandon its determination to leave the customs union and centrally regulated single market, reported Reuters. The suggestion for a “deeper relationship” was repeated by Guy Verhofstadt, the EU legislature’s Brexit coordinator.

But Reuters points out that Brexit campaigners believe May’s current plans already leave Britain too tied to EU rules.

“Those in the UK who expect the EU to ‘rush to the rescue’ with proposed changes to the Brexit agreement are in for a let-down,” says BBC Europe editor Katya Adler.

The broadcaster notes that the European Court of Justice has ruled that Britain “can revoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty - the legal mechanism taking the country out of the EU on 29 March - without the approval of the other 27 member states”.

However, this would likely need a second referendum or general election in the UK first.

With just ten weeks before the planned exit date, EU members have signalled that the 29 March deadline can be extended.

“Maybe the British would like to take more time,” said French President Emmanuel Macron. Germany’s economy minister Peter Altmaier appeared to agree.

“EU leaders expect Theresa May to go to Brussels within 48 hours to begin negotiations to save the deal, but she has indicated that she will travel next week at the earliest,” reports The Times. “European negotiators are already working on the assumption that Britain is ‘in Article 50 extension territory’ and expect Mrs May to ask for a delay of up to three months.”

As Verhofstadt has said: “The UK parliament has said what it doesn’t want. Now it is time to find out what UK parliamentarians want.”

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