“Every effort” will be made to help embattled the British prime minister get the EU-UK Brexit deal the necessary approval by the UK parliament, Commission President Jean Claude Juncker has said.
Mr Juncker was speaking as UK Prime Minister Theresa May again insisted that the current timetable with a Brexit deadline of March 29 will be met. Her assertion came as some unnamed British cabinet ministers told a London newspaper that Brexit could be delayed.
Confusion abounded in London and in Brussels, diplomats privately conceded that a large number of scenarios were now being contemplated for the coming months.
Meanwhile, two of Brexit’s biggest Leave campaign donors said they now believe the project they bankrolled will eventually be abandoned by the government and the United Kingdom will stay in the European Union after all.
Peter Hargreaves, the billionaire who was the second biggest donor to the 2016 Leave campaign, and veteran hedge fund manager Crispin Odey, told Reuters news agency they expected Britain to stay in the EU despite their campaign victory in the 2016 referendum.
As a result, Mr Odey, who runs hedge fund Odey Asset Management, said he is now positioning for the pound to strengthen. More recently his flagship fund previously reaped the benefit of betting against UK assets amid wider market fears about the impact of Brexit.
There was also speculation in EU circles that another gesture of help could be delivered to Mrs May on Monday, on the eve of the crucial Brexit ratification vote which most observers expect to be defeated, making a calamitous no-deal exit more likely.
Mr Juncker said the EU stood ready to help – but this did not extend to reopening the deal signed off at a special summit on November 25.
“No-deal would be a catastrophe both for our British friends and for continental Europeans. So every effort must be made between now and Tuesday to bring this important issue to a good conclusion,” Mr Juncker told reporters.
The Commission president refused to speculate on what form the EU’s “help for Mrs May” would take.
Observers in London said they expected the prime minister could not recruit enough pro-EU Labour MPs to offset the loss of the 10 Democratic Unionists and dozens of her own party members, and Northern Ireland remained a crucial issue.
Mrs May is seeking further reassurances that the backstop, to keep the North close to the EU on product rules, will be temporary.
She hopes she can use such assurances to undo the rebels’ opposition.
Brushing aside newspaper speculation about Brexit delays, a spokeswoman for Mrs May said Britain will have implemented the necessary legislation before the country leaves the European Union in March.
“We are obviously making progress with the legislation required in either scenario and we will ensure either way we will have passed the necessary legislation. We will make sure the time is made available,” Mrs May’s spokeswoman told reporters.
The official added that the prime minister had ruled out extending the Article 50 exit process, which the government triggered in 2017 to launch two years of divorce talks with the European Union. The speculation had been fuelled by reports in the ‘London Evening Standard’ newspaper, but the speculation is more general in British political circles.
“The legislative timetable is now very, very tight indeed,” a senior minister told the newspaper yesterday. “Certainly, if there was defeat on Tuesday and it took some time before it got resolved, it’s hard to see how we can get all the legislation through by March 29.”