UK's May tries to calm Brexit rebels, says deal almost done
Prime Minister Theresa May urged restive lawmakers to back her in the final stages of Britain’s exit from the European Union, saying talks were in their most difficult phase even if a deal was close, Reuters reports.
After facing some of the fiercest attacks to date over her Brexit plans since again failing to clinch a deal at an EU summit last week, May tried to calm passions in parliament where her strategy has angered eurosceptics and EU supporters alike.
“Serving our national interest will demand that we hold our nerve through these last stages of the negotiations, the hardest part of all,” May told parliament.
Financial markets seized on the possibility that May could be toppled as prime minister by rebels in her Conservative Party, driving sterling below $1.30 to its lowest since Oct. 4.
With just over five months until Britain is scheduled to exit the EU, talks have stalled over a disagreement on the so-called Northern Irish “backstop”, an insurance policy to ensure there will be no return to a hard border on the island of Ireland if a future trading relationship is not agreed in time.
But May’s attempt to unlock the talks by considering an extension to a status-quo transition period beyond the current proposed end date of December 2020 has further riled both pro- and anti-EU factions in her deeply split Conservative Party.
May again dismissed the EU’s proposed backstop as unacceptable and she set out two options for Britain to choose from: an extension to the transition period, or a temporary UK-EU customs territory which was first outlined earlier this year.
May said the EU had made a substantial shift on the latter option. EU sources told Reuters negotiators were looking at ways to promise Britain a customs deal that could stretch Brussels’ Brexit red lines but might break a deadlock.
In an attempt to highlight how much progress has been made in more than a year of talks with the EU, she told parliament the government has reached agreement on everything from Gibraltar to future security over the last three weeks.
“Taking all of this together, 95 per cent of the Withdrawal Agreement and its protocols are now settled,” she said.