NIAC identified that the key obstacle is lack of trust and goodwill between the negotiating parties, rather than the absence of systems and technologies.


London: Theresa May went to Paris, Berlin and Brussels to ask for a short extension for Brexit/Article 50. The German press called the visits a “begging tour”. Surprisingly, May was officially a “guest” and not a European Union (EU) member head of state at the EUCO Summit. May was accompanied by Sarah Healey, Director General of Department for Exiting the European Union (DexEU); Sir Tim Barrow, UK’s Permanent representative to the EU; Gavin Barwell, the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff; and Sajjad Karim, Member of European Parliament (MEP) for the North West of England and Conservative Candidate for the North West in the upcoming European elections. The last representative is an interesting choice to have accompanied the PM, as Karim, a Remainer, has been vociferously campaigning for a good/soft Brexit and promoting a second referendum, often giving the impression that he would like to have No Brexit.

Karim, formerly a Liberal Democrat, joined the Conservative party in 2007. He is the first British born Muslim to become an MEP, founder of the European Parliament Friends of Pakistan Group and the chair of the South Asia Trade monitoring Committee. According to a biography published by Councillor Val Allen, “he has taken a leading role in strengthening the bonds between his country of birth, the UK, and his homeland, Pakistan, through his work in the European Parliament and has worked extremely closely with former Prime Minister David Cameron on EU-Pakistan matters, particularly on trade related issues, including a concessionary trade status for Pakistan called GSP+ (Generalised Scheme of Preferences)… He has also authored two trade-related reports on EU-India Trade Relations and the EU-India Free Trade Agreement, both of which maintained the need for human rights to be integral in any trade related agreement that the EU has with another country, with particular reference to Indian-Administered Kashmir (IAK).”

Now that UK is participating in the EU Elections and UK’s potential Eurosceptic MEPs present a danger of Eurosceptic behaviour in European Parliament, is Theresa May presenting Karim as her ideal stereotype MEP? Nigel Farage’s new Brexit Party and the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) are likely to be fielding Leaver candidates. But unfortunately, for Brexiteers, the enthusiasm for turning out to vote has declined to 37%, whereas 46.9% of Remainers will supposedly turn out, according to a new Open Europe poll.

Theresa May has been granted “space” to agree to a Withdrawal Agreement (WA) via an extension till the end of October; instantly renamed the Halloween Extension, but with a half-time appraisal for good behaviour by the European Parliament in June. The European Council (EC) reiterated that there can be no opening of the Withdrawal Agreement. However, if the UK position were to evolve, the EC is prepared to reconsider the Political Declaration on the future relationship according to the rules.

May is under pressure from the European Research Group (ERG) and DUP MPs to renegotiate, rather than pursue a compromise with the Labour Party. Sammy Wilson, MP from the DUP, has already suggested that a different leader might lead to a different outcome. The day after the EUCO Summit, Arlene Foster, DUP leader, and two members of the ERG, Owen Paterson and Iain Duncan-Smith were in Brussels, meeting with Michel Barnier, EU Chief Negotiator, sharing why unionism rejects a barrier between Northern Ireland and the UK, and discussing border etiquette.

Paterson is part of the UK Alternative Arrangements Working Group who is offering the “Malthouse Plan B”, a transition period, whereby the UK and the EU continue to trade without a Withdrawal Agreement. This plan gives time to prepare for the World Trade Organization (WTO) departure, but without tariffs, quotas and any new barriers to trading within member states; and crucially the £39 billion divorce settlement would be reduced to an annual payment.

The Northern Ireland Affairs Committee (NIAC) appears to have identified a transparent border solution to the Backstop. They identified that the key obstacle is the lack of trust and goodwill between the negotiating parties, rather than the absence of systems and technologies. The NIAC recommends that the Political Declaration be amended and the preamble to the Protocol be clarified, in a judiciable form, to make absolutely clear that the backstop arrangements are designed to prevent a hard border only, and should not be taken as the baseline starting position for negotiations on the future UK-EU relationship.

These two possibilities prove that there are practical alternatives to Theresa May’s deal other than another referendum, No Deal or no Brexit.

Now, to bypass the failed ERG vote of no confidence in the Prime Minister, regional Conservative Associations are striving to enact Extraordinary General Meetings to table a motion of no confidence against Theresa May as Leader of the Conservative Party. The House of Commons is now on Easter Recess until 23 April.


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