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EU nations prepare for disorderly Brexit amid political chaos

Several European Union countries are anxiously preparing for Britain to leave the EU without a deal in late March, as a political standoff over the way the country should leave the block continues.

By Stefan J. Bos 

Several European Union countries are anxiously preparing for Britain leaving the EU without a deal in late March as a political standoff over the way the nation should exit the block continues. Neither British Prime Minister Theresa May nor the main British opposition leader appears to shift from their entrenched positions.

Amid mounting political tensions, Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May is meeting politicians from several parties in an effort to find a way forward after her European Union divorce deal, known as Brexit, was rejected by Parliament this week.

While she narrowly survived a subsequent no-confidence vote, she has been unwilling to move on her so-called “red lines.” They include taking Britain out of the bloc’s customs union, which allows freedom of movement. But opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn wants Britain to stay in a customs union with the EU. And he refuses to meet with May unless she rules out the possibility of Britain leaving the EU without a deal.

Labour leader Corbyn challenged Prime Minister May to explain her position on the customs union during a fierce debate in Parliament. "Her spokesman suggested that the government had ruled out any form of a customs union with the European Union as part of reaching out exercise. Can the prime mister confirm that is the case," he wondered. 

In a reply, Prime Minister May said the "exercise" is about "listening to the views of the House about wanting to understand the views of Parliamentarians so that we can identify what could command the support of this House and deliver on the referendum."

Referendum results

She stressed that the government wants to deliver on the results of the 2016 referendum "that is leaving the European Union" and do it in a way 'that ensures that we respect the votes of those who voted to leave in that referendum." 

May added "that means ending free movement, it means getting a fairer deal for farmers and fishermen, it means opening up new opportunities to trade with the rest of the world and it means keeping good ties with our neighbors in Europe.   

Britain’s political chaos sparked EU nations to step up preparations for a disorderly British exit. 

France and other EU member states are spending millions of euros on hiring thousands of workers and issuing emergency decrees to cope with the possibility that Britain will crash out of the bloc, sparking significant disruptions to travel and trade.

Germans concerned

On Friday, a group of high-profile Germans made an emotional appeal to Britain to stay in the bloc. In a letter published by The Times of London newspaper they said that “without your great nation, this Continent would not be what it is today: a community defined by freedom and prosperity.” 

They also cited things Germans would miss about Britain, among them “tea with milk” and “going to the pub after work.”

The signatories include Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer,  leader of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union and her possible successor, Airbus company chief Tom Enders, and former German national soccer player Jens Lehmann.

Britain's former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson urged May to force the EU to give Britain a better deal. But several EU leaders have ruled out making any changes to the Brexit deal. 

European Council President Donald Tusk even hinted that Britain should stay in the EU. In his words: "If a deal is impossible, and no-one wants no deal, then who will finally have the courage to say what the only positive solution is?"

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18 January 2019, 16:25