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BREXIT

Brits in Europe hold breath with MPs set to vote on Theresa May’s ‘improved’ deal

Lawmakers in London were set to vote on Prime Minister Theresa May's Brexit deal on Tuesday a day after she said she had secured a new and improved deal to leave the EU. Britons across Europe will be waiting anxiously and will have mixed feelings about whether they want the deal to pass.

Brits in Europe hold breath with MPs set to vote on Theresa May's 'improved' deal
Theresa May and Jean-Claude Juncker. Photo: AFP

Prime Minister Theresa May said on Monday she has secured “legally binding” guarantees from the EU designed to get the Brexit deal through the British parliament and avert a chaotic withdrawal.

She announced the move after a late evening dash to Strasbourg to hammer out the changes with top European officials, as the clock ticked down to Britain's scheduled divorce from the bloc on March 29th.

European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker warned that the stakes were increasingly high, ahead of a vote by British lawmakers on the deal on Tuesday.

“The choice is clear: it is this deal, or Brexit may not happen at all. Let's bring the UK's withdrawal to an orderly end,” the former Luxembourg premier told reporters, sitting next to May at a late-night press conference in the French city.

“There will be no third chance.”

The three-part package of changes effectively aims to resolve a key sticking point for British MPs over the so-called backstop plan to keep open the border between EU member Ireland and the British province of Northern Ireland.

“Today we have secured legal changes,” May told reporters after the talks with Juncker and the European Union's chief negotiator Michel Barnier.

“Now is the time to come together, to back this improved Brexit deal, and to deliver on the instruction of the British people.”

UK lawmakers will study the new proposals before holding a vote on the divorce deal Tuesday, with just 17 days remaining before Britain's planned split from the bloc after 46 years.

Britain's House of Commons overwhelmingly defeated the deal in January and was expected to do so again on Tuesday without meaningful change.

However on Tuesday the signs for Theresa May were not good as Britain's Attorney General Geoffrey Cox published his legal advice on the new deal.

Cox concluded that the new guarantees do reduce the risk of Britain being stuck in the so-called Northern Ireland backstop – which would keep the UK in a customs union – if the EU acts in bad faith.

But he added that if trade talks simply drag on because the two sides cannot reach an agreement then Britain would not have a way out of the backstop. 

And as a result of that legal advice, the pound fell.

'Incompetence or contempt?'

Another defeat in parliament could see Britain sever ties with its closest trading partner on March 29th with no new arrangements, causing huge disruption on both sides of the Channel.

It would also raise the possibility of postponing Brexit, after May promised to allow MPs a vote later this week on whether to accept a “no deal” scenario or request a short delay from the EU.

Juncker said he recommended the deal to the EU Council, which represents member states, and that Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar was prepared to back the changes on the backstop.

Brexit-supporting MPs reacted cautiously to news of the agreement, but said they wanted to examine the detail.

“We will certainly analyze that very, very carefully,” said Nigel Dodds of Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), part of May's coalition government.

The DUP's support is crucial if the deal is to pass the House of Commons.

May's trip to Strasbourg caused concern among some MPs, who had complained they may not have enough time to scrutinize what May agreed before being asked to vote.

“Is this incompetence or is this just contempt for parliament?” said opposition Labour MP Yvette Cooper.

'Harder to leave the backstop'

May's initial deal was struck after 18 months of tough negotiations, and covers Britain's financial settlement, expatriate rights, the Irish border and plans for a transition period.

But MPs rejected it in January by a massive 432 votes to 202, with many of May's Conservatives rebelling against her.

The Commons later sent her back to renegotiate the backstop.

This would keep Britain in the EU customs union and parts of its single market until and unless another way — such as a trade deal — is found to avoid frontier checks.

Juncker said May and he have agreed a “legal instrument” to ease British concerns over the backstop.

Many MPs fear it is a “trap” to keep them tied to EU rules, but Brussels has rejected calls for a time limit or unilateral exit clause.

“It is harder to leave the backstop than it is to leave the EU,” claimed Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg, an influential Brexiteer.

May has promised Britain will leave the EU whatever happens on March 29th, but many MPs fear that a “no deal” exit would wreak economic havoc.

In the face of a cabinet revolt, she promised that if her deal is defeated again then MPs will vote on “no deal” on Wednesday and then on Thursday, on delaying Brexit.

Any postponement would have to be approved by the leaders of the other 27 nations, who are next meeting at a Brussel's summit on March 21st and 22nd — a week before Brexit day.

Nigel Farage, who spearheaded the campaign that led to Britons voting in the June 2016 referendum to leave the EU, held firm. 

“This is all words and twisted meanings. Nothing has changed. Reject. Reject. Reject,” Farage tweeted.

Britain's main opposition Labour Party also came out against the agreement.

“This evening's agreement with the European Commission does not contain anything approaching the changes Theresa May promised parliament,” Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said.

Member comments

  1. We now suspect that Theresa May is not merely an idiot, or simply pigheaded to the max, but actually was BOUGHT and PAID FOR from the very beginning, to create the disaster of a Hard Brexit, because her puppeteers (the same ones who engineered the original social-media /brainwashed / manipulated referendum) WANT chaos, since that will bring THEM their Ultimate Tory and “Libertarian” Billionaire “investment opportunities.” (Never mind massive suffering caused to others. Sociopaths don’t care, do you?”)

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BREXIT

Brexit: Brits in EU feel European and don’t want to return home

The majority of Britons who live in the EU, Norway, Iceland or Switzerland and are protected under the Brexit agreement feel European and intend to remain in Europe permanently, but many have concerns about travel problems, a new survey reveals.

Brexit: Brits in EU feel European and don't want to return home

The research also shows that problems exist and “travel is where most issues relating to the new status currently occur”. For instance, border officials are still stamping passports of UK citizens with residence rights under the EU UK withdrawal agreement, even though they shouldn’t.

“There is constant confusion around passport stamping. I was ‘stamped in’ to France on a short trip… but could not find anyway to be ‘stamped out’ again. I think I can only spend 90 days in other EU countries, but have no idea how anyone can check or enforce that – until someone decides to try. It’s a mess,” was one of the answers left in an open question.

“Every time I go through a Schengen border control, I need to provide both my passport and Aufenthaltstitel card [resident permit in Germany] and watch to check that they don’t stamp my passport. As I am currently travelling a lot that’s been 20-odd times this year…” another respondent said.

The survey was carried out by Professor Tanja Bueltmann, historian of migration and diaspora at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, between October and November 2022. About 1,139 UK citizens replied.

Of these, 80 per cent found acquiring their new status easy or very easy, 60.7 per cent feel their rights are secure, while 39.3 per cent have concerns about their status going forward.

Staying permanently

More than three quarters (76.6 per cent) of respondents said they plan to live permanently in the EU or the other countries of the European Economic Area and Switzerland. In fact, 65.7 per cent said that Brexit has increased the likelihood of this choice.

For some, the decision is linked to the difficulty to bring non-British family members to the UK under new, stricter immigration rules.

“My German wife and I decided we no longer wanted to live in UK post Brexit referendum. In particular, we were affected by the impact of immigration law […] We cannot now return to UK on retirement as I cannot sponsor her on my pension. We knew it was a one-way journey. Fortunately, I could revive an application for German citizenship,” was a testimony.

“My husband is a US citizen and getting him a visa for the UK was near impossible due to my low income as a freelance journalist. We realized under EU law, moving to an EU country was easier. We settled on Austria as we had both lived there before… we could speak some German, and we like the mountains,” said another respondent.

Professor Bueltmann noted that the loss of free movement rights in the EU could be a factor too in the decision of many to stay where they are.

Citizenship and representation

Among those who decided to stay, 38.2 per cent are either applying or planning to apply for a citizenship and 28.6 per cent are thinking about it.

A key finding of the research, Bueltmann said, is that the vast majority of British citizens do not feel politically represented. Some 60 per cent of respondents said they feel unrepresented and another 30 per cent not well represented.

Another issue is that less than half (47.5 per cent) trust the government of their country of residence, while a larger proportion (62 per cent) trust the European Union. Almost all (95.6 per cent) said they do not trust the UK government.

Feeling European

The survey highlights the Brexit impacts on people’s identity too. 82.6 per cent of respondents said they see themselves as European, a higher proportion than those identifying as British (68.9 per cent).

“Brexit has really left me unsure of what my identity is. I don’t feel British, and I certainly don’t identify with the mindset of a lot of British people who live there. Yet, I am not Danish either. So, I don’t really know anymore!” said one of the participants in the survey.

Professor Bueltmann said the survey “demonstrates that Brexit impacts continue to evolve: this didn’t just stop because the transition period was over or a deadline for an application had been reached. Consequently, Brexit continues to shape the lives and experiences of British citizens in the EU/EEA and Switzerland in substantial, sometimes life-altering, ways.”

Considering the results of the study, Professor Bueltmann recommends policy makers in the EU and the UK to address the issue of lack of representation, for instance creating a joint UK-EU citizens’ stakeholder forum.

The report also recommends the UK government to rebuild trust with British citizens in the EU introducing voting rights for life and changing immigration rules to allow British-European families to return more easily. 

This article was prepared in cooperation with Europe Street News.

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