Risk of no-deal Brexit ‘very real’: European Commission president

Reuters Strasbourg | Updated on September 18, 2019 Published on September 18, 2019

In a worst-case scenario, a no-deal Brexit could mean severe disruption to trade, supplies of medicines, fresh foods and a possible rise in public disorder   -  Bloomberg

Juncker tells parliament Boris Johnson must make proposals

An accord to ensure a smooth British exit from the European Union is still possible, but the risk of a no-deal is also “very real”, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said on Wednesday, six weeks before Britain is due to leave.

In an address in the European Parliament, Juncker said British Prime Minister Boris Johnson had told him on Monday that London still wanted a transition deal, but that he would leave with or without an accord on October 31.

Pro-Brexit lawmakers cheered and applauded in the Strasbourg chamber.

“There is very little time left...The risk of a no-deal is very real,” said Juncker, who met Johnson in Luxembourg on Monday.

In a worst-case scenario, a no-deal Brexit could mean severe disruption to trade, supplies of medicines, fresh foods and a possible rise in public disorder, according to the British government’s contingency plans.

Such a sharp break in economic ties, ending four decades of EU membership, “might be the United Kingdom’s choice, but never the choice of the EU,” Juncker said, highlighting how the bloc wants to avoid blame if Britain crashes out.

Juncker said London must present realistic proposals to replace the Irish backstop arrangement in the Britain-EU divorce agreement, which former premier Theresa May agreed with EU leaders but which was rejected by the British parliament.

“I am not emotionally attached to the Irish backstop,” Juncker said. “I have asked the Prime Minister to make, in writing, alternatives,” he said, calling it a safety net to avoid a divided Ireland after Brexit.

His pessimistic tone was echoed by Finland’s Minister for European Affairs, Tytti Tuppurainen, who also spoke in the parliament, saying a no-deal Brexit “is a quite likely outcome.” Finland holds the EU’s rotating presidency.

‘Stupid’ Brexit

However, many EU lawmakers warned against a no-deal, both to avoid an economic shock and because they do not want to see Britain abandon its commitments to EU social and environmental standards and become a low-tax, low-regulation rival.

“We will not accept a Singapore on the North Sea,” said former Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt, a liberal EU lawmaker and a member of the parliament’s Brexit committee.

In at times bad-tempered debate underscoring general weariness on the tortured issue of Britain’s pending departure, senior EU lawmakers took other jabs at the noisy contingent of British euro-sceptic deputies in the chamber.

Manfred Weber, leader of the centre-right EPP group, called Brexit “stupid”, while he and Verhofstadt took aim at British plans for greater sovereignty at a time when the parliament in Westminster has been suspended by Johnson.

“Brexiteers claimed Westminster would take back control, but now they shut it down,” Weber, a German lawmaker, said.

The European parliament is due to adopt a resolution later on Wednesday calling for Britain to be granted another extension to allow more time for London to agree the terms of its withdrawal.

EU leaders will discuss whether to grant an extension at a two-day summit in Brussels from October 17. Britain’s departure has already been delayed twice since March, and Johnson says this will not happen again.

The EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, said that a no-deal Brexit would also not resolve many of the issues around the rights of EU citizens, the Irish border and British obligations under the bloc’s long-term budget.

“If the United Kingdom leaves without a deal, all these questions will not disappear. They are still there,” Barnier said. “Some three years after the Brexit referendum, we should not be pretending to negotiate.”

Published on September 18, 2019
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