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    ‘EU Willing to Make Soothing Noises, But Not Willing to Make Concessions’ – Prof

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    UK Prime Minister Theresa May has presented her Brexit Plan B to the House of Commons saying that the only two ways to avoid a no-deal Brexit were striking an agreement with the EU bloc or revoking Article 50.

    Sputnik discussed Mrs. May's plan with Dr Eoin O'Malley, an associate professor in political science at the School of Law and Government, Dublin City University.

    Sputnik: What essentially new does Theresa May's plan B reveal?

    Eoin O'Malley: There doesn't seem to be anything new in plan B, it just seems to be plan A, but with looking for a little bit more clarification. So, plan A was essentially the deal that she had negotiated with the European Commission, which was, obviously, rejected in the House of Commons. Plan B seems to be that she is going to look for some clarification on the backstop.

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    I think she is hoping that there could be some time limit on this famous backstop. The backstop is a sort of an insurance policy that if the EU and the UK cannot come to any agreement, a trade deal for instance, then there would be no border posts put in on the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland. So, there doesn't seem to be anything new in it; there's just a kind of vague hope that something new might emerge.

    Sputnik: Mrs. May said she could not definitely rule out a no-deal scenario. How high is the likelihood of Britain breaking away from the bloc without a deal?

    Eoin O'Malley: It's reasonable high in that it is the default position. So, if nothing else happens, if there's no agreement to do anything else — and it will probably need the agreement of the House of Commons to do anything else — then, on 29 March, the UK leaves the European Union without a deal and all the trade deals that it was part of with the European Union just go out of the window; and it falls back to the WTO rules when it comes to trade. There's an assumption that people will come to some agreement, because nobody really wants that.

    But again, the most likely thing to happen, and probably the only thing that anybody could agree, is that there would be an extension to this Article 50, which is the article under which they are negotiating the exit. So, you might have an extension so it won't be on 29 March; they might say "okay, let's give ourselves another two or three months; we'll go to the end of May or the end of June".

    Sputnik: Mrs. May is expected to discuss the backstop issue with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and try to get more concessions from the European Union. How willing is Brussels to give them to her?

    Eoin O'Malley: I think that Brussels is willing to make soothing noises, but it's not going to be willing to make any real concessions. So the backstop which the Irish government is insistent on, the European Union will remain being insistent on. There's some talk that there might be a move to a front stop, so if you have an extension of Article 50 to allow the European Union and the UK to continue their negotiations, then they might try to negotiate a trade deal as part of the exit arrangement. So you wouldn't need to have this backstop, because you'd have already agreed what you're going to have going forward. That might be the best option for all sides.

    Sputnik: What outcome do you expect on 29 January?

    Eoin O'Malley: I suppose there's nothing to vote on yet, because there isn't a real plan B. But I can't imagine that anything really will have changed. The only thing that might have changed is that we're a little bit closer to a no-deal, and that might get a few people to back her; but she's not going to make up to 200 votes that she needs to make up, so I don't think there will be any real change when the House of Commons votes on this deal next.

    Sputnik: What do you make of Mrs. May's statement that Britain will definitely leave the European Union on 29 March?

    Eoin O'Malley: I presume that it's just part of the negotiating strategy, where she is trying to say "we're not afraid of a no-deal; we're ready to go and if you don't concede something to us, we'll crash out, but we are not afraid of it and you should be afraid as well". I think it's an attempt to try to concentrate minds in Brussels, to try and get them to concede on things. But Brussels has been pretty united thus far and in any time that there has been a kind of a stall in the negotiations, it has always been Brussels that seems to have won. So, I'm not sure that there's any reason to believe that Brussels won't win the next time.

    Sputnik: Bloomberg reported that Mrs. May put army reservists on standby; what is she trying to achieve by this?

    Eoin O'Malley: Again, I think it's part of the negotiation strategy, it's trying to say "we're ready for it"; but part of it is, probably, practical as well in that nobody is quite clear what will happen at borders and at the customs posts, so customs checks will have to be done.

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    They don't have enough people to do them, so you can use army reservists to do a lot of that heavy lifting that might be required if you suddenly have to build cabins for a customs posts at ports, you have to do things like that. Again, I think it's also part of these negotiations just to try to signal to Brussels that "we are ready for a crash-out, so you'd better negotiate with us and you'd better do a deal with us".

    The views and opinions expressed by the speaker do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.

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