EU urges May to seize Labour opening as way out of Brexit impasse

EU urges May to seize Labour opening as way out of Brexit impasse

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BRUSSELS – It’s a proposal that is not even on the table, and reverses Theresa May’s determined position – but EU officials are still urging her to grasp an offer from the Labour opposition to break an impasse over the terms of Britain’s EU exit.
The Conservative prime minister gave no sign during her visit to Brussels on Thursday of softening her rejection of a permanent EU-UK customs union, as Labour proposes, European Union sources said.
But for many in Brussels, the possibility of Labour support for an orderly Brexit that avoids the likely chaos of “no-deal” is the only way out of the deadlock, and justifies an attempt to influence Britain’s highly tribal internal politics.
“We are still very much in the party politics perspective. The only hope is that, at some point, the threat of ‘no-deal’ disruptions would mobilise minds in the UK,” an EU diplomat briefed on May’s talks in Brussels said on Friday.
“For now, May is still looking at her own party rather than a nationwide consensus.”
The EU says London agreeing to closer ties with the bloc after Brexit would largely obviate the need for a contentious “backstop” provision in the future, an insurance policy meant to keep the border between Ireland and the British-run province of Northern Ireland open under any and all circumstances.
“We are looking at those proposals with interest but there are obviously very considerable points of difference that exist between us,” said a senior official in May’s office.
“The PM continues to believe that an independent trade policy is one of the key advantages of Brexit,” the person said under condition of anonymity.
Staying in a customs union with the EU would limit the UK’s ability to seal trade deals with other countries on its own.
But the bloc believes that solution might be acceptable to the Northern Irish unionists propping up May’s government, as well as to at least some Labour lawmakers, and thus secure a parliamentary majority for the divorce deal before Britain leaves on March 29.
Given the EU’s opposition to the concessions on the backstop that May is currently demanding, the only alternative appears to Brussels to be a delay to the exit and/or a “no-deal” Brexit, with no transition period to soften the economic rupture.

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