Saturday, 15 December 2018 | News today: 1

Brexit, migration loom at EU Austria summit


European leaders gathered in the Austrian city of Salzburg on Wednesday evening for an informal two-day summit. The talks are set to focus on Brexit, the final agreement on which is supposed to be laid out in October, and immigration, a major policy point for Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, whose government holds the rotating EU presidency.

Chancellor Kurz: “A hard Brexit with no deal would be difficult for Europe, but it would be terrible for the UK,” he said, adding that the onus was on the UK to compromise.

European Council President Donald Tusk: He agreed that the UK needed to reach across the aisle for compromise, saying that its Brexit planned must be “reworked”.

UK Prime Minister Theresa May: In an editorial published in several European newspapers, May wrote that it was “unacceptable” that the EU is proposing to keep Northern Ireland temporarily in its customs union as a backstop to avoid imposing a hard border between it and Ireland in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

A major summit planned in Brussels for October 18 is being treated as the last chance at a concrete deal for Brexit, which is supposed to go into effect on April 1. While the parties could theoretically ink a deal later than October (there’s already talk of an extra November meeting) it will take time to be ratified both by the EU legislature, all member state parliaments, and the UK parliament.

Back in the UK on Wednesday, a junior minister in May’s government for the first time hinted that a second referendum on EU membership could be possible if the House of Commons rejects whatever deal is reached with the EU.

“They’ll end up in the situation where we could have a second referendum and we could end up not leaving the EU altogether,” junior treasury official Mel Stride told Sky News.

Upon arrival, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that Brexit negotiations had entered their “decisive” phase, adding she was hoping for particularly close future cooperation on matters like “internal and external security.”

EU leaders are also under pressure to come up with a compromise on immigration, after a joint summit in June produced a deal that was scant on details.

While most countries agree on strengthening the border control agency Frontex, they still disagree on suggestions to redistribute refugees proportionally throughout the bloc. Countries like Poland, the Czech Republic, and Hungary do not look likely to change their hardline stance against this plan.

There are also disagreements across the bloc about which north African countries can be relied upon to set up schemes to stop migrants attempting the dangerous sea crossing to Europe, although many have praised Egypt for its efforts thus far.

Council President Donald Tusk accused member states of playing “the migration blame game” and urged them to create a bloc-wide solution to the issue.