EU in ‘keep calm and carry on’ mood

Brussels European Quarter, Nov 2018 file pic Image copyright AFP Image caption Brussels European Quarter: Brexit is not disrupting the EU’s day-to-day business

As the turmoil over Brexit continues at Westminster, the attitude in Brussels appears to be: “Keep calm and carry on.”

That was an official slogan adopted by the British government in 1939, on the eve of war.

On Wednesday, European diplomats were glued to the drama as MPs clashed with the Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow.

There was a cautious welcome for the amendment shortening the time Theresa May’s government will have to respond if, as expected, it loses next Tuesday’s vote on the UK withdrawal deal.

“It reduces the possible period of uncertainty, or at least it might do,” said a European official.

Veil of silence

Speculation about the possibility of no deal – or even an emergency summit – ebbs and flows with each passing hour.

No-one will admit to being on the receiving end of tentative calls from the UK about the possibility of postponing Brexit beyond 29 March, allowed under Article 50 of the EU treaty.

But everyone agrees it would be a logical thing for the UK to explore.

Image copyright EPA Image caption Tensions are running high in and around the House of Commons

If the EU is working on a letter of reassurance about the Irish border – to be deployed at the last minute – then it’s being done in secret by the European Council and the European Commission, because officials from the member states don’t know anything about it.

The Irish border backstop – aimed at preventing the return of a hard Irish border – is the thorniest issue addressed in the withdrawal deal.

But the EU has triggered the legal procedure for signing off that deal, whatever MPs in Westminster think of it.

Ambassadors from the 27 other member states (the EU27) approved the procedure in Brussels on Wednesday.

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Formalities agreed

The EU27 will write letters agreeing that the deal should be signed. It will then be passed to the European Parliament for its consent.

The agreement will bear the signatures of European Council President Donald Tusk and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.

Pretty obvious, yes, but there was a discussion about which big names would get to hold the pen.

This is designed to reinforce the message that the deal is done and to show that the EU is getting on with its side of the bargain –

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