EU says the bloc received nothing new from UK on Brexit
The EU said Wednesday it currently sees no alternative to the so-called "Irish backstop" in a Brexit withdrawal deal and warned the risk of Britain crashing out without an agreement has increased. As political turmoil rages in London and the clock ticks down to the October 31 departure date, the European Commission issued its final preparations for a "no-deal" Brexit, which experts say would have a seismic impact on Britain and the EU alike.
The European Union says it is still awaiting proposals from Britain to break the Brexit deadlock as technical talks aimed at ending the impasse get underway in Brussels.
European Commission spokeswoman Mina Andreeva said "there is nothing new" in terms of new ideas from London.
Andreeva says "we are willing to work constructively with Prime Minister (Boris) Johnson and to look at any concrete proposals that he may have as long as they are compatible with the withdrawal agreement."
Britain wants to remove the so-called backstop arrangement aimed at keeping goods flowing smoothly between EU member Ireland and Northern Ireland in the U.K. after Brexit from the legally-binding divorce agreement. The EU insists it must remain.
BRITAIN'S FROST NOT SEEN OFFERING NEW IDEAS ON BREXIT BACKSTOP
British Brexit negotiator David Frost is not expected to offer new ideas to replace the Irish backstop when he arrives in Brussels for talks with the European Union on Wednesday, British and European diplomats and officials said.
The question of whether Prime Minister Boris Johnson has a new plan to reach a deal with the EU or is bluffing to run out the clock before an abrupt exit goes to the heart of the political crisis in London, where opponents of an exit with no deal have seized control of parliamentary business to stop it.
British and EU sources both said there might be nothing of substance on offer during Frost's visit, but gave different reasons for why this would be the case.
A British official said London was unwilling to put anything on the table for fear it would be swiftly shot down. Europeans, for their part, said they were sceptical whether Britain had any new proposals to offer at all.
Johnson demands the EU ditch the "backstop" provision of a deal reached with his predecessor Theresa May, which would require Britain to obey some EU rules until another mechanism can be found to keep the border on the island of Ireland open.
The House of Commons defeated him on Tuesday in a bid to prevent him taking Britain out of the EU without a divorce agreement on Oct.31. Johnson responded by announcing he would push for a snap election, possibly as soon as on Oct. 14.
Johnson says he wants a deal but needs a credible threat of a no-deal exit to force the Europeans to compromise at the last minute, during a summit of the bloc's leaders in mid-October, just a fortnight before Britain is due to leave.
The bloc says the Irish backstop could be abandoned only if an alternative is found that would achieve the same ends, be legally sound and practically applicable straight away. It has put the onus on Johnson's cabinet to come up with alternatives.
The British official said London was expecting creativity and a joint endeavour from the bloc's side.
The EU's executive Commission - which is negotiating Brexit for the 27 other member states - complained on Tuesday that Britain was procrastinating.
"That is because these semi-negotiations are a bluff. The British don't have alternative arrangements, they are playing for time," said one EU diplomat present at the Commission's closed-door briefing.
A senior EU diplomat added: "The British position is strange. They have put precisely zero proposals on the table so how can they have any grounds for fearing they will be shot down other than the British themselves knowing that their likely proposals are inadequate."
BRACING FOR NO-DEAL
The Commission will also present on Wednesday its updated contingency plans for a no-deal Brexit, which would include making a natural disaster fund available to people, businesses and countries weighing under ensuing disruptions.
Pending further approval, the measures would prolong some existing rules for cooperation between the bloc and Britain in transport and fisheries even after a no-deal Brexit. Plans could also be discussed for Britain to pay into the bloc's budget for some joint programmes next year.
"Even if not desired, the EU is ready for a no-deal," said the Commission spokeswoman, Mina Andreeva.
The bloc's scepticism that the latest round of talks with London could yield a breakthrough only deepened after Johnson also lost his wafer-thin majority on Tuesday.
"There is little sense in negotiating with a government that has no parliamentary majority to pass through the house whatever could maybe be agreed," concluded a third EU diplomat.
British lawmakers hoping to avoid a no-deal exit are planning to require Johnson seek an extension until January if he cannot agree a deal or win a vote backing no-deal.
Despite French resistance, Brexit watchers in the EU's political hub Brussels generally expect the bloc would grant such a plea, but stress the formal request would need to come from London - which Johnson has repeatedly vowed not to do.
EU WARNS FIRMS TO GET READY FOR NO-DEAL BREXIT
The European Union is warning businesses and people likely to be hit by Brexit to make sure they are prepared for the possibility that Britain might leave the bloc without an agreement at the end of next month.
The EU's executive arm, the European Commission, on Wednesday released a checklist for companies to use to help minimize expected disruptions to trade after Britain departs on Oct 31.
The commission says EU funds set up to respond to natural disasters and help people whose jobs are hit by major changes in world trade should be used to help businesses, workers and countries hardest hit by any no-deal.
A total of 780 million euros ($860 million) would be available, if the EU parliament and member countries endorse the move. Britain would have no access to the money.