In a common situation, there are always two ways to see the same thing. According Brussels, the UK and the EU went through with the divorce. According to London, not yet. On Tuesday 29 January, PM Theresa May has announced her will to reopen the withdrawal agreement on Brexit. And guess what ? The EU has answered « no ».
Emotional blackmail ?
The EU has ruled out making changes to the legal text agreed with the UK PM. But hope is life, and Mrs May has told her cabinet she will seek legally binding changes to the controversial Irish backstop. Senior Brexiteer rebels -who voted down her deal last month- have indicated they would be willing to back the rest of the UK-EU Brexit deal if she gets legal changes to the backstop.
If the backstop is so important for Theresa May, it’s simply because it is the insurance policy in her plan to prevent checks on good and people returning to the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, which some MPS fear could leave the UK tied to the EU’s rules indefinitely. Several amendments have been made and Speaker of the House John Bercow, has named seven amendments to be debated and voted on. The first one, from Tory MP Sir Graham Brady, is calling on « alternative arrangements » to the backstop. The second one, from Labour MP Yvette Cooper, could delay the exit date by up to nine months.
British PM knows that she has to reach the best deal possible with the EU and with the Parliament, because she is aware that a « no-deal » would be far worse for her country. By proposing to reopen negotiations with Brussels, Theresa May tries to step her narrow majority up. And it seems to work : former foreign secretary and leading Brexiteer Boris Johnson gave a boost to the plan, saying he « gladly » vote for the amendment, if Mrs May confirmed she would open negotiations with Brussels.
The House of Commons voted by 317 votes to 301 in favor of this amendment. It will be enough for the EU to accept reopening negotiations, so it appears. Unfortunately, two days later the UK had to face up to the harsh reality.
« If she comes with the same position as before, she will get the same answer »Senior European Commission official
Only one answer : no
In response to the votes in Westminster, the EU27 swiftly squashed any hope of a renegotiation of the Brexit withdrawal treaty without a more substantive revision of the UK red lines.
« This is our position, as coordinated with EU27 capitals » explains European Council President Donald Tusk immediately after the votes. Even if the EU completely welcome and share the UK’s ambition to avoid a no-deal scenario, the Union continue to urge the UK government do clarify its intention « as soon as possible ». « If [Theresa May] comes with the same position as before, she will get the same answer » said a Senior European Commission official.
To the EU’s mind, the backstop was part of the Withdrawal Agreement, and this Agreement is not open for renegotiation. The December European Council was absolutely clear about this point.
However, the EU expressed willingness to extend the deadline for the UK’s withdrawal.