Brexit was one of the main subjects at the EU Council meeting that took place on 13 December. Reports say that the discussion was marked by a showdown among the world’s two most powerful women (according to Forbes’ list), as well as the European Commission president.
The mood was “very bad” as the bloc’s heads of state argued about Brexit during the Brussels summit, the German outlet Welt reports, citing sources in EU circles. The newspaper claims that German Chancellor Angela Merkel interrupted her UK counterpart, Prime Minister Theresa May, several times during her speech and insisted that she clarify her position.
The German website Focus reported that Merkel had refused to accept May’s proposal to set a specific deadline for striking a free-trade agreement that could resolve the Northern Ireland issue instead of a backstop date. The outlet cites the EU insiders as saying that the UK prime minister suggested it was December, 2021.
Merkel reportedly rebuffed her claims, pointing out that it “always depends on two sides” whether a free trade agreement exists.
“If reinsurance is necessary because we have not found enough regulation for the transition phase, then we want to quickly overcome this backstop. And we will do our utmost to do that”, she said.
At the same time, she emphasized that the preparations for Britain’s unregulated exit, which would be the case if the UK Parliament does not agree on the deal, would continue. She pointed out that their “desire is to have an agreement”.
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker also called out the British government, stating that he needs clarification as to what exactly it expects from Brussels. He slammed the discussion as “sometimes nebulous and imprecise”.
“I do find it uncomfortable that there’s an impression perhaps in the UK that it is for the EU to propose solutions. It is for the UK leaving the EU and I would have thought that it was rather more for the British government”, he said at a press conference.
At the same time, Juncker announced that the EU would intensify its preparations for a UK exit without agreement. He stated that the commission would present guidelines for a hard Brexit.
Upon her arrival at the EU Council meeting this Thursday, UK Prime Minister Theresa May declared that she had come “to get legal and political assurances to assuage the concerns of my fellow MPs in Westminster”.
May toured some European capitals this week, including The Hague and Berlin, to convince European leaders to give her a bit more leeway so that she does not come home from the Brussels summit empty-handed.
The single market for goods and services was part of the discussion, since – under the Brexit agreement – the United Kingdom would effectively remain within the EU customs union. This is precisely why the “Brexiteers” refuse to accept her plan, deemed too weak and allowing the bloc to determine the United Kingdom’s economic future.
May’s vision of Brexit was put to the test on Wednesday night when the governing Conservative Party voted 200-117 to declare confidence in the prime minister.