Prime Minister Theresa May of Britain had what was described as a “robust but constructive” talk with the president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, as her visit to Brussels on Thursday got off to a polite but cool beginning.
And as the talks came to a predictably inconclusive conclusion, a growing list of recent ominous economic developments was punctuated by a report from the Bank of England that Britain faced its slowest growth in 10 years in 2019. The bank’s governor spoke of tensions caused by the “fog of Brexit,” the country’s increasingly chaotic withdrawal from the European Union.
Mrs. May made the trip to make what was widely regarded as an unrealistic demand to reopen the withdrawal agreement that she negotiated with Brussels, and which lays out a managed exit on March 29. She needs help from the bloc because the agreement has been rejected overwhelmingly by the British Parliament.
The sticking point in the agreement, as it has been for the better part of two years of negotiations, was the immensely unpopular “backstop” — an arrangement to guarantee that there will be no hard border on the island of Ireland between Britain and the European Union. It is anathema to pro-Brexit forces because it would keep Britain in the European Union’s customs union indefinitely, preventing it from making trade deals with other countries.
Yet, as he and other European leaders have told her many times before, Mr. Juncker told Mrs. May that the 585-page withdrawal agreement could not be reopened and the backstop could neither be eliminated nor made time-limited.
But according to a joint statement after their talks, Mrs. May and Mr. Juncker agreed that both sides would keep talking about how to reassure the British Parliament about the backstop and that they would meet again by the end of this month.
Image Credit Prime Minister Theresa May of Britain, left, with Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, in Brussels on Thursday. They agreed to meet again by the end of the month.CreditCreditFrancois Lenoir/Reuters