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EU Fears British Conservatives Not Realistic About Brexit

By Jamie Dettmer June 18, 2019

European Union officials are warning the October 31 Brexit deadline will likely have to be extended - if Britain is to leave the bloc in an orderly way - whoever the British Conservatives pick as their next leader and the country's prime minister.

They fear Boris Johnson, the runaway favorite to succeed Theresa May, whose prime ministership foundered on Brexit rocks, doesn't understand that and still thinks he can use brinkmanship to turn the clock back two years and start fresh negotiations, as though a withdrawal agreement hasn't been struck between London and Brussels.

In the second knockout ballot to select two contenders to present to the party's 160,000 members to pick the new leader, Johnson again came out well ahead of his rivals with 126 votes. His nearest challenger, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, received 46 votes. There were six candidates in all Tuesday, but in the next ballot Wednesday there will be only five.

"We must leave the EU on October 31st, with or without a deal, so we can begin to unite our country, restore trust in our politics, and move beyond Brexit to focus on delivering for everyone," he said.

But with just more than four months to go before the deadline, which has been extended twice before because Theresa May couldn't gain parliamentary backing for the deal that is unpopular with both hardline Brexiters and Europhile lawmakers, EU officials are adamant they won't agree to reopen the voluminous withdrawal agreement, which took more than two years of tempestuous negotiations to conclude.

And they are cautioning that even if the accompanying political declaration, which will outline a possible future trade deal between Britain and the European Union, is to be tweaked there will be no one senior enough in Brussels to sign-off on any changes. "It comes down to an issue of timetabling," a senior EU official told VOA. "And they just don't get it: a new European Commission won't be in place until the end of October," he said.

He added, "We have seen this throughout Brexit talks – the British Conservatives just don't get how the EU actually works." He said even if Britain is to leave without the withdrawal deal and wanted to reduce the impact on travel, aviation, customs checks and security cooperation in what is being termed a "managed no-deal," that would take at least three months of talks and ratification to be implemented.

Following the European Parliamentary elections last month, the bloc has to choose a new EC president and select new commissioners. With the EU governing institutions in flux themselves until then, that would leave a handful of weeks for Theresa May's successor to try to draw up a new deal in the face of EU resistance or seek to push back the deadline.

That is if they want to avoid Britain crashing out of the bloc, which would have enormous and possibly recession-triggering consequences for the country and prompt serious disruption for Britain's near neighbors in Europe – Ireland, France, Belgium and the Netherlands.

But a new opinion poll published Tuesday of ordinary Conservative members suggests they don't care about economic consequences and are even ready to see the break up of the United Kingdom with Scotland and Northern Ireland peeling off as a result of a no-deal departure.

According to the survey conducted by the YouGov pollster, 63 percent want Brexit to go ahead even if it means Scotland decides to break away to restore its independence, and 61 percent favor leaving even if it means significant economic damage. A slim majority are ready to endorse Brexit even if it ends up destroying the Conservative party itself. But a majority would be willing to delay Brexit, if it meant an early election and Britain's main opposition party, Labour, finding its way into Downing Street.

"For someone like me who believes in the benefits of being in the UK as well as the EU, this looks like the profile of a party that has lost its grip on reality," tweeted Ian Bond, an analyst at the Center for European Reform.

Rupert Colville, director of the pro-Brexit Conservative Center for Policy Studies, said the poll results were "eye-popping."

With the deadline looming, Michel Barnier, the EU's chief Brexit negotiator and a possible future EC president, is urging all of the 27 other EU countries to recognize "no-deal planning is crucially important." Last week he said, "Between now and end of Oct, public authorities & stakeholders should review preparedness."

Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar has maintained a drum-beat of warnings urging the Conservatives against thinking a better accord can be pulled off, saying it would be "a terrible political miscalculation."

Conservative lawmaker Antoinette Sandbach, who voted for May's withdrawal deal, said in an interview Tuesday with a British broadcaster that to make out the agreement can be reopened "isn't telling the truth to the British public and they are not being straight about the position we are going to face."

But fellow Conservative lawmaker Johnny Mercer counters whether the new European Commission is in post or not, "people in the European Union are going to be straining every sinew to get some sort of deal through so that we can leave on October 31."

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