Brexit: clarity expected by midnight

‘Everything should be clear’ by 23:00 tonight with regard to Brexit, according to the president of the European Council.

16 October 2019
By Oliver Rowland

Donald Tusk made the statement this afternoon on the private news channel TVN 24 saying that “theoretically” clarity would have emerged by the late evening.

“It is still undergoing changes and the basic foundations of this agreement are ready and theoretically we could accept a deal tomorrow,” he said.

However he added: “Everything is going in the right direction, but you will have noticed yourselves that with Brexit and above all with our British partners anything is possible.”

Tomorrow will see the start of a two-day European Council summit, which is the last meeting of EU leaders scheduled before the current date of Brexit: October 31 at midnight.

The leaders have said they do not want to have to negotiate at the summit, but want if possible to have a deal ready to agree to.

A previous so-called ‘deadline’ passed at midnight last night without anything being concluded.

The Reuters news agency had cited ‘EU diplomats’ saying chief negotiator Michel Barnier insisted the UK and EU would have to agree a legal text by the end of yesterday for him to be able to recommend to the member states that they agree a deal at the summit.

If a deal is agreed at the European Council meeting it is expected to involve concessions by the UK allowing Northern Ireland to remain in a customs union with the EU if the ‘backstop’ is triggered, creating a ‘border in the Irish Sea’.

If agreed, the deal would then have to be voted on by the British Parliament at an extraordinary sitting this Saturday October 19.

Mr Johnson would need 320 MPs (out of 650) to vote for the deal to have it approved (the Speaker and two deputy Speakers do not vote and the seven Sinn Fein MPs abstain from sitting in Westminster).

Whether or not he could muster this is uncertain. Northern Ireland’s right-wing DUP party is expected once again to play a crucial role in this and is reported to have doubts over the acceptability of the proposals.

Most Conservatives are expected to vote for a deal and the chairman of the hard-right European Research Group faction, Steve Baker, has said he is optimistic about being able to find the deal “tolerable”.

Some 21 former Conservatives who were expelled over their support for the Benn Act are mixed as to the way they are expected to vote.

Meanwhile most Labour MPs are likely to vote against a deal, though it is thought some will be swayed especially if the government allows a confirmatory referendum. The Liberal Democrats may also be amenable to this.

The SNP is expected to oppose a deal.

This afternoon Brexit Minister Steve Barclay, questioned by the MPs’ Brexit Steering Group, said that if no new deal is achieved by Saturday the prime minister will respect the Benn Act that requires him to ask the EU for another extension.

He also denied rumours that the prime minister intended to send a letter asking for this – as the act requires – but then send another one cancelling it.

If a deal is passed by the British MPs, the European Parliament would then be expected to vote on it, and vote it through. That would pave the way to a so-called ‘orderly exit’ at the end of the month.

The UK would then leave the EU, but for practical purposes nothing would change until the end of a transition period finishing on December 31, 2020 (or later, if subsequently agreed between the UK and EU).

In that case Britons in France would have to apply for cartes de séjour but they are expected to have to be of a new, tailored, kind. The deadline for applications would be June 30, 2021.

In Brexit is put off again, then this is expected to be for at least three months. In the meantime it is possible there will be a general election and perhaps a new referendum.

If the UK leaves with no deal then the no-deal rules as planned by the UK and France would come into play, including Britons being obliged to apply for cards by the end of April 2020. Card applications already made through the new website would be forwarded to prefectures who would invite the applicants to visit to pay the fee and give fingerprints and photographs.

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