Britain to EU: 'Engage with us now in seriousness' on Brexit proposals

A woman in red turns around next to a line of men all in suits.

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May arrives for a photo during the European Union leaders informal summit in Salzburg, Austria, on Sept. 20, 2018.

Credit:

Lisi Niesner/Reuters

Britain said on Saturday it would not capitulate in Brexit talks and again urged its EU partners to engage with its proposals, as ministers in Paris and Berlin suggested the next move in the negotiations should come from London.

British Prime Minister Theresa May on Friday demanded new proposals and respect from European Union leaders, saying after a summit in Austria that talks had hit an impasse — a position her foreign minister reinforced on Saturday, even if that meant leaving the bloc next March without a deal.

"If the EU's view is that just by saying no to every proposal made by the United Kingdom, we will eventually capitulate and end up either with a Norway option or indeed staying in the EU ... then they've profoundly misjudged the British people," Jeremy Hunt told BBC radio.

"We may be polite, but we have a bottom line. And so they need to engage with us now in seriousness."

May's defiant statement was welcomed on Saturday by many in the British press that had seen the Salzburg summit as a failure for her. The Daily Express said it was "May's finest hour." 

Digging in

But initial reactions from across the English Channel suggested France and Germany were digging in too.

EU leaders and May have said they want to get a deal agreed in October, to be finalized in November. 

In Paris, Minister for European Affairs Nathalie Loiseau said that, while France still believed a good Brexit deal was possible, it must also prepare for a "no deal" outcome.

Britain's vote to leave "cannot lead to the EU going bust," she said on France Info radio. "... That's the message we have tried to send for several months now to our British counterparts, who may have thought we were going to say 'yes' to whatever deal they came up with."

In Berlin, German Deputy Foreign Minister Michael Roth said the other 27 EU states were striving to achieve reasonable solutions.

"The blame game against the EU is therefore more than unfair. We can't solve the problems that are arising on the island [Britain] due to Brexit," he said on Twitter.

In London, the Telegraph reported that May faced the prospect of ministerial resignations next week if she failed to come up with an alternative to the "Chequers" Brexit plan that she presented in Austria.

After May's Friday statement, European Council President Donald Tusk said that the results of the EU's analysis of that plan had been known to Britain for many weeks. But Hunt said there was a difference between rhetoric and substance.

"On the substance of the Chequers proposals, we have not had a detailed response," he said, adding that EU proposals for the Irish border would mean that it was impossible "to leave the EU intact as one country".

May's Conservatives rely on a small pro-Brexit Northern Irish party, the Democratic Unionists (DUP), for their governing majority in parliament. 

Ireland's Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said the DUP should not have a veto on a "backstop" insurance policy to keep the Irish border fully open for trade.

May has accepted the need for a backstop but says the EU's version of the proposal would see Northern Ireland carved off from the United Kingdom. The EU says May's proposal, keeping the province and mainland Britain in the same regulatory space, undermines the single market.

Despite the differences, Coveney told RTE radio an Irish backstop was "doable" by an October summit.

Bumpy and difficult

Hunt said Britain's economy would be able to withstand a no-deal Brexit, saying it was "absolutely right" that many Britons were now content to leave the EU without a deal.

Around 52 percent of Britons voted to leave the EU in a referendum in 2016 and 48 percent to stay.

"Even in a situation where we aren't able to come to an agreement, we would be trading on World Trade Organization terms. It would be bumpy, it would be difficult, but we would find a way to survive and prosper as a country," Hunt said.

"We've had far bigger challenges in our history. But it's not our desired outcome."

In Berlin, magazine Der Spiegel said Germany's government expected the impact of a no-deal Brexit on its labor market to be "relatively small." It cited a government response to a request for information from the far-left Linke party.

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