Spanish warship ordered ships to leave British waters near Gibraltar

FILE PHOTO: A cloud partially covers the tip of the Rock of the British territory of Gibraltar at sunrise from La Atunara port before Spanish fishermen sail in their fishing boats with their relatives to take part in a protest at an area of the sea where an artificial reef was built by Gibraltar using concrete blocks, in Algeciras bay, La Linea de la Concepcion in southern Spain August 18, 2013. REUTERS/Jon Nazca

LONDON (Reuters) – A Spanish warship tried to order commercial shipping to leave anchorages in British waters near Gibraltar but was challenged by the British navy and sailed away, Gibraltar said, the latest example of tension over the strategic port as Brexit approaches.

The Spanish ship tried to order ships to leave their anchorages on the eastern side of the Rock, but the ships stayed in position, Gibraltar’s authorities said. After being challenged by the British navy, the Spanish warship then sailed slowly along the coast with its weapons uncovered and manned.

Spanish authorities did not immediately comment on the issue.

Tensions over territorial waters around the peninsula in southern Spain often erupt between Spanish and British vessels. Gibraltar, overlooking the strait between the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea, has been ruled by Britain since 1713.

Its status and the status of its 30,000 residents have been gaining attention as Britain’s exit from the European Union approaches on March 29, raising questions about free movement across its land and sea borders with Spain.

“There is only nuisance value to these foolish games being played by those who don’t accept unimpeachable British sovereignty over the waters around Gibraltar,” a spokesman for Gibraltar said.

Spain has already secured a right of veto over whether future Brexit arrangements can apply to Gibraltar. Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez held up an agreement on Britain’s withdrawal treaty in November over the issue and said Spain would seek joint sovereignty after Britain leaves the EU.

(Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge; additional information by Jose Elias Rodriguez; Editing by Kate Holton and Peter Graff)

A matter of life and death? UK stockpiles drugs as no-deal Brexit feared

Jo Elgarf is seen with her daughter Nora and the child's prescription medicine at their home in London, Britain, January 30, 2019. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls

By Edward Baran

LONDON (Reuters) – With just 56 days until Britain leaves the EU, Jo Elgarf has begun stockpiling food in case politicians fail to strike an exit deal, but she says she cannot do the same with vital drugs her disabled daughter needs.

Four-year-old Nora has cerebral palsy and epilepsy and relies on imported Epilim and Keppra daily to stop her suffering seizures. Elgarf wants to stock up on the drugs in case supplies are hit but she can’t because they are only available on a monthly prescription.

For Nora, “this could be matter of life and death,” Elgarf told Reuters at her home in southwest London.

“It could mean being sent off in an ambulance to hospital with a massive seizure that lasts five minutes plus. She cannot miss those medicines. There’s no ifs and buts about it and we cannot use alternatives either.”

With the clock ticking, British lawmakers are still struggling to agree a withdrawal treaty with the European Union, having comprehensively rejected Prime Minister Theresa May’s agreement last month.

The default position means Britain will leave on March 29 without a deal in place unless something can be agreed beforehand. That has led to fears that supply chains will be severely disrupted leading to shortages of food and medicines.

According to the British government, about three-quarters of medicines used by the state-run National Health Service (NHS) come via the EU. May, a Type 1 diabetic, has said she herself relies on insulin produced in another EU country.

WORLD’S BIGGEST FRIDGE BUYER

Last August, Health Secretary Matt Hancock outlined plans to ensure Britain had an extra six weeks of supplies in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

In January, he said Britain had bought 5,000 fridges to hold medicines, making him the biggest buyer of fridges in the world, and secured warehouse space.

Jo Elgarf sits with her daughter Nora at their home in London, Britain, January 30, 2019. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls

Jo Elgarf sits with her daughter Nora at their home in London, Britain, January 30, 2019. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls

“Making sure patients continue to have access to the medicines they need is paramount…,” said health minister responsible for Brexit planning Stephen Hammond.

“We are working extremely closely with industry to make sure there are significant supplies of these drugs in the UK,” Hammond wrote in an article last week.

But some Britons do not share that confidence, and anecdotal evidence from newspaper readers suggests people are stockpiling everything from children’s painkillers to medicines for serious conditions.

For Elgarf, a member of anti-Brexit Facebook group “48 percent Preppers” – a reference to the percentage that voted to remain in the EU in the 2016 referendum – that is not an option, and that has left her fearful.

“It doesn’t matter even if I had all the money in the world, I can’t go and buy these medicines because they are prescription-only. I have no way of securing my child’s future,” she said.

It is not just patients and their families who are concerned.

The chief executive of a body running hospitals in Birmingham, England’s second-biggest city, warned last week there was a risk operations could be canceled because of a drug shortage.

“In the event of a chaotic, no-deal exit, many NHS trusts could quickly run out of vital medical supplies,” Dr Dave Rosser wrote in a memo to his board of directors.

He said “well-informed and non-political NHS sources” had estimated goods from Europe across the English Channel “could be reduced to between one-third and one-fifth of current daily volumes for a period of at least some months.”

According to the Brexit Health Alliance, an industry body, 45 million patient packs go to the EU from the UK every month, and 37 million packs go the other way.

“Any divergence from these harmonized standards by the UK in the future, and a lack of agreement on cooperation with the EU on medicines and medical devices, would mean that supply chains are at risk,” it said.

One unintended consequence of the concern is that patients stocking up on medicines might bring about problems themselves.

“Hospitals, pharmacies, (family doctor) surgeries and patients should not stockpile medicines at any point during this process,” health minister Hammond said.

“Doing so risks shortages for other patients. If everyone does what they are supposed to, we are confident the supply of medicines will continue uninterrupted whatever the Brexit outcome.”

(Writing by Michael Holden; editing by John Stonestreet)

Brexit survival kit helps Britons face the worst with freeze-dried fajita

'Brexit Box' ration kits which contain dehydrated food, water purifying kit and fire starting gel are pictured at the warehouse of emergency food storage.co.uk in Leeds, Britain January 21, 2019. REUTERS/Phil Noble

LEEDS (Reuters) – With just nine weeks to go until Britain is due to leave the European Union, a company is selling worried Britons a survival kit to help them prepare for the worst.

The “Brexit Box”, retailing at 295 pounds ($380), provides food rations to last 30 days, according to its producer, businessman James Blake who says he has already sold hundreds of them.

With still no deal on how Britain will trade with the EU once it leaves, retailers and manufacturers have warned a “no-deal” Brexit could cause food and medicine shortages due to expected chaos at ports that could paralyze supply lines.

The Brexit Box includes 60 portions of freeze-dried British favorites: Chicken Tikka, Chilli Con Carne, Macaroni Cheese and Chicken Fajitas, 48 portions of dried mince and chicken, firelighter liquid and an emergency water filter.

“Right now we are in a Brexit process that nobody has control over, we have no idea what is happening. Our government has no idea what is happening, but you can control what happens to you by taking control yourself,” said Blake.

“One of those things is to be a little bit ahead, have some food in place,” he added.

Customer Lynda Mayall, 61, who ignored government assurances that there is no need to stockpile food for Brexit, said: “I thought: let’s make sure I’m covered in the event of things going awry.

In addition to her Brexit Box, Mayall, a counselor and therapist, has stocked up on household products such as washing liquid, which she thinks may become scarce.

The Brexit Box’s long shelf life – the canned food will last up to 25 years – is appealing.

“In the event I don’t need it for Brexit, it is not going to go to waste,” Mayall said.

(Reporting by Reuters Television; Additional reporting by Alexandra Hudson; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

Britain removes word ‘unlikely’ from no-deal Brexit guidance

FILE PHOTO: EU and Union flags overlap during an anti-Brexit protest opposite the Houses of Parliament in London, Britain, December 17, 2018. REUTERS/Toby Melville

LONDON (Reuters) – The British government has removed the word “unlikely” from its official Brexit guidance telling companies and citizens how to prepare for a disorderly exit where the UK leaves the European Union without a deal.

Theresa May’s government has issued a string of technical notices in recent months with advice on what needs to be done before the country leaves the world’s largest trading bloc on March 29. They cover everything from the movement of organs, blood and sperm to nuclear regulation and organic food.

The notices had originally referred to the “unlikely” chance that Britain leaves the EU without a deal. The documents now refer to simply a “no deal scenario”.

“Delivering the deal negotiated with the EU remains the government’s top priority. This has not changed,” one notice on aviation rules says.

“However, the government must prepare for every eventuality, including a no-deal scenario.”

With just under 100 days until Britain is due to leave the EU, deep divisions in parliament have raised the chances of leaving without a deal.

May has struck an agreement with Brussels on the terms of the divorce but she was forced to pull a parliamentary vote on the proposal last week after admitting it would be defeated.

A spokeswoman for Britain’s Brexit department said the language had been updated after the government started to step up its plans for a no-deal exit.

“We fully expect to get a deal and believe that is the most likely outcome – that is what we are focused on delivering,” she said.

(Reporting by Kate Holton; editing by Stephen Addison)

Britain’s May bows to Brexit pressure in parliament

Britain's Prime Minister, Theresa May, arrives at Downing Street, in central London, Britain July 16, 2018. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls

By William James and Elizabeth Piper

LONDON (Reuters) – Prime Minister Theresa May bowed to pressure from Brexit supporters in her governing Conservative Party on Monday, accepting their changes to a customs bill that underpins Britain’s departure from the European Union.

May, vulnerable in parliament after losing her party’s majority at an ill-judged election last year, has come under fire from both wings of her party over a hard-won Brexit plan, with one ex-minister calling it the “worst of all worlds”.

Eurosceptic lawmakers had targeted her government’s customs legislation to try to toughen up her plans to leave the EU, but instead of facing them down and fuelling tensions, her spokesman said the government would accept their four amendments.

It was not clear the move would fundamentally change her plans – the changes do little more than to put government policy into law, her spokesman said – but it was a victory of sorts for those lawmakers who say May has betrayed them on Brexit, the biggest shift in British trade and foreign policy for decades.

“We will be accepting those four amendments,” the spokesman told reporters, saying the government believed they were “consistent” with the white paper policy document ministers agreed earlier this month.

“We have accepted these amendments because we believe them to be consistent with the approach that was set out and agreed at Chequers,” he said.

May had to fight hard to get the agreement of cabinet ministers at her Chequers country residence for her vision for Britain’s future ties with the EU, only for it to be undermined by the resignations last week of her Brexit minister David Davis and foreign secretary Boris Johnson.

The plan, only a starting point for the second phase of talks with the EU, has come under fire from other eurosceptic lawmakers, who say the proposal to keep close customs ties to the EU betrays her commitment for a clean break with the bloc.

The battle over the amendments to the Taxation (Cross-border Trade) Bill, or customs bill, is unlikely to be the last that May and her team will have to face.

“WORST OF BOTH WORLDS”

On Monday, the other wing of May’s Conservative Party – those lawmakers who want to keep the closest possible ties with the EU after Brexit – spoke up in the voice of former education minister Justine Greening who called for a second referendum.

Greening said such a vote was the only way to break the stalemate in parliament over the best future relationship with the bloc and branded May’s plan as “a fudge I can’t support. It’s the worst of both worlds”.

May’s spokesman said there would be no second referendum under any circumstances, and restated her position that the Chequers plan was the only way to deliver a Brexit that worked in the best interests of the country.

Another pro-EU lawmaker Dominic Grieve, who has led previous efforts to get the government to soften its Brexit stance, said the party needed to accept compromises “or accept that Brexit cannot be implemented and think again about what we are doing”.

For now the impetus lies with the Brexit supporters.

Jacob Rees-Mogg, an arch eurosceptic who proposed the amendments, said he did not expect the bill, or another bill on trade due to be debated on Tuesday, to be blocked outright by the 650-member parliament. Rees-Mogg said that he wanted rather to test the support in parliament for changing her strategy.

“I’m sure Theresa May does not want to split the Conservative Party and therefore she will find that the inevitable consequence of the parliamentary arithmetic is that she will need to change it (the Brexit policy) to keep the party united,” Rees-Mogg said.

(Reporting by William James, additional reporting by Michael Holden and Elizabeth Piper; Editing by David Stamp and Gareth Jones)

Donald Trump’s visit puts Britain’s Brexit dependence on show

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump shake hands with Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May during the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, January 25, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Barria/File Photo

By Guy Faulconbridge and William James

LONDON (Reuters) – When Donald Trump visits Britain next week, Prime Minister Theresa May will have to face a harsh reality: Brexit makes Britain more dependent than ever on an alliance with the most unpredictable U.S. president in living memory.

Sandwiched between a NATO meeting and a summit with Russia’s Vladimir Putin, Trump’s first visit to Britain as president comes at one of the most important junctures for Europe and the West since the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union.

From challenging Western assumptions about the EU and free trade to courting the Kremlin and North Korea’s leader, Trump has delivered on his promise of an “unpredictable” U.S. foreign policy.

That leaves May, who held hands with Trump at the White House during her visit after his inauguration, in a difficult position as she seeks closer trade ties with the United States to offset the disruption of leaving the EU on March 29, 2019.(F

“The irony is that by leaving the EU, the United Kingdom will be less useful to Washington as an ally but it will also need the United States much more,” said Jeffrey A. Stacey, a former State Department official in Obama’s administration.

“So May has been thrown into the arms of the most unpredictable U.S. president in living memory,” Stacey said.

Over 50,000 people have signed up for a protest on Trafalgar Square in central London against the Trump visit, which will include a meeting with Queen Elizabeth and possibly even a round of golf at his Turnberry course in Scotland.

Even taking account of Trump’s penchant for deal making, the visit is likely to be heavy on rhetoric about an increasingly lopsided “special relationship” and short on specifics such as the details of a post-Brexit trade deal.

For supporters, Trump and Brexit offer the prospect of breaking free from what they see as obsolete institutions and rules that have weakened the United States and its allies relative to competitors such as China.

But for many British diplomats, Brexit marks the collapse of a 70-year British strategy of trying to balance European integration with a U.S. alliance based on blood, trade and intelligence sharing.

“May’s rushed diplomacy with Trump has been foolish: what has she actually got out of the relationship so far?” said one senior European diplomat in London, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

“You Brits are leaving Europe but do you really want to jump into the arms of Donald Trump’s America? And more importantly, do you have a choice?” the diplomat asked.

HOLDING HANDS

Trump’s victory in the 2016 presidential election shocked British diplomats in Washington and relations between May, a vicar’s daughter, and Trump have been strained at times.

The enduring image of May’s visit to the White House in January 2017, when she became the first foreign leader to meet the president after he took office, was Trump taking May’s hand to help her down the steps of a White House colonnade.

But any good vibrations from that moment soon dissipated when Trump, the same day, announced plans to ban migrants from seven Muslim-majority countries – a decision that drew fierce international criticism and appeared to blindside May.

Days later, thousands marched on parliament to protest the decision to offer a Trump full state visit to Britain, and 1.8 million people signed a petition saying the invitation should be canceled because he might embarrass the Queen.

Trump has repeatedly thwarted British and other European diplomatic overtures, withdrawing from multilateral agreements on climate change, human rights, and a treasured deal to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions in exchange for lifting sanctions.

Officials around May insist that Britain still has the capability to influence Trump, outlining a handling strategy that involves appealing to his self interest, “planting the seed” of an idea and allowing him time to consider its merits.

But, much will rest on the personal dynamic between May, a staid, career politician who prides herself on careful decision-making, and Trump, the brash, often-bellicose, former reality TV star who declared last month he would know within a minute whether a deal could be struck with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un

“We talk about Trump and Macron because it seems interesting with some upsides. We talk about Trump and Angela Merkel because it’s ‘difficult'” said Leslie Vinjamuri, head of the U.S. and Americas program at the Chatham House think tank.

“Theresa May gets a bit lost in all of that. She has neither been strong nor weak, there doesn’t seem to be any special affection.”

Asked at last month’s G7 meeting in Canada whether Trump was a “good friend” to Britain, May said: “The United States and the United Kingdom are good friends. President Trump and I work together.”

But just hours after the meeting concluded he tore up a joint communique on trade, equality and the environment that May and other G7 leaders had labored late into the night to agree.

Therein lies the difficulty for May.

“When he’s here, he’ll give, but I think when he walks away he will very quickly forget what the visit was about,” Vinjamuri said.

(Editing by Angus MacSwan)

Soros donation to halt Brexit causes storm in Britain

Business magnate George Soros arrives to speak at the Open Russia Club in London, Britain June 20, 2016.

By Guy Faulconbridge

LONDON (Reuters) – News that billionaire financier George Soros is a backer of a campaign group seeking to keep Britain in the EU added fire to Britain’s Brexit debate on Thursday, with supporters of quitting the bloc accusing opponents of plotting a “coup”.

The Best of Britain campaign group confirmed it had received 400,000 pounds from Soros. Soros, best known in Britain for earning billions betting against the pound in the early 1990s, is the target of a hostile media campaign by the nationalist government in his native Hungary and a hate figure for rightwing campaigners in eastern Europe and the United States.

Best of Britain said it had obeyed all rules on political funding in accepting the donation from Soros.

Prime Minister Theresa May’s office repeated its long-standing position that the decision to leave the EU in 2019 after a vote in 2016 was final and would not be reversed. It also defended the right of campaign groups to accept donations.

The Daily Telegraph newspaper, which first reported Soros’s involvement, said the 87-year-old former hedge fund manager was backing a “secret plot” to stop Brexit. The article was written by Nick Timothy, a former chief of staff to May.

Mark Malloch-Brown, a former British diplomat who is chair of the Best for Britain campaign group, said the group had never hidden its aims, which include staying in the EU.

“George Soros’s foundations have along with a number of other major donors also made significant contributions to our work,” Malloch-Brown said in a statement, confirming Soros had contributed 400,000 pounds through his charitable foundations.

May’s spokesman said: “There are many political and campaign groups in this country, that’s entirely right and as you would expect in a democracy.”

“The prime minister’s position on this matter is clear, the country voted to leave the European Union, that’s what we are going to deliver and there won’t be a second referendum.”

BREXIT REVERSED?

In the United Kingdom’s 2016 referendum, 51.9 percent, or 17.4 million people, voted to leave the EU while 48.1 percent, or 16.1 million people, voted to stay. Both sides accepted large donations from wealthy individuals.

Ever since the shock vote, supporters of EU membership have been exploring an array of different legal and political methods to prevent what they see as the biggest mistake in post-World War Two British history.

Brexiteers say such efforts threaten political stability as they go against the democratic will of 17.4 million people. They have vowed to fight any attempt to stop Brexit.

“The new Soros-led coalition is planning a coup in Britain, against the democratic will of the people,” Richard Tice, who chairs the Leave Means Leave campaign group, told Reuters. “They have been outed and will be defeated.”

May, whose government and party is divided over Brexit, has just eight months to strike a deal with the EU on the terms of Britain’s withdrawal.

Opponents of Brexit hope to focus their efforts on blocking British parliamentary approval for the exit deal, a step that if successful could sink May’s premiership. There is, though, little sign so far of a change in opinion among voters, and the supporters of EU membership lack a popular leader who could unite the disparate groups opposed to Brexit.

Brexiteers such as Nigel Farage say public opposition to Brexit from the likes of former Prime Minister Tony Blair and Goldman Sachs Group Inc <GS.N> Chief Executive Lloyd Blankfein are unlikely to sway British public opinion.

With no deal, Britain would face a disorderly Brexit that many investors fear would imperil Britain’s $2.7 trillion economy, disrupt trade across the world’s biggest trading bloc and undermine London’s position as the only financial centre to rival New York.

($1 = 0.7209 pounds)

(Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Peter Graff)

Stop meddling in foreign elections, UK’s Johnson tells Russian hosts

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (R) and British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson attend a news conference following their talks in Moscow, Russia December 22,

By Andrew Osborn and Vladimir Soldatkin

MOSCOW (Reuters) – British foreign minister Boris Johnson told his Russian counterpart on Friday there was “abundant evidence” of Moscow meddling in foreign elections, but said any Russian efforts to interfere in last year’s Brexit referendum had fallen flat.

On the first visit to Russia by a British foreign minister in five years, Johnson said he wanted to normalize UK-Russia relations, which were going through “a very difficult patch”.

But that didn’t mean pretending that Britain did not have serious concerns about Russia’s behavior, he said.

” … We can’t pretend that they (the problems) do not exist, and that we share a common perspective on the events in Ukraine, or in the Western Balkans or … on Russian activities in cyberspace,” said Johnson.

He also said Britain had a duty to speak up for the LGBT community in Chechnya. Two men from Chechnya told Reuters in June they had been tortured because they were gay. Chechen authorities deny the allegations.

Johnson’s visit comes at a time when relations between London and Moscow are strained by differences over Ukraine and Syria as well as by allegations, which Russia flatly denies, that Moscow has meddled in the politics of various European countries by backing cyber attacks and disinformation campaigns.

BREXIT

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov challenged that narrative, however, saying Johnson himself had recently said he had no proof that Moscow had meddled in last year’s British referendum on leaving the European Union.

“Not successfully, not successfully, I think is the word,” Johnson — a leading advocate of Brexit — shot back, to which Lavrov replied: “He’s scared that if he doesn’t disagree with me, his reputation will be ruined at home.”

Johnson, who said there was abundant evidence of Russian election meddling in Germany, the United States and other countries, said it was Lavrov’s reputation he was worried about.

“I think it is very important … to recognize that Russian attempts to interfere in our elections or in our referendum, whatever they may have been, they’ve not been successful,” said Johnson.

Lavrov said he blamed Britain for the poor state of relations, complaining about “insulting and aggressive statements” from London. He also complained about Britain airing its differences with Moscow publicly rather than in private.

But although the two men spent much of their joint news conference exchanging barbs, both sounded upbeat when it came to trying to cooperate in narrow areas, such as in the U.N. Security Council, and on security arrangements for next year’s soccer World Cup in Russia.

Lavrov complained, however, that Britain was still not fully cooperating with Russia’s FSB security service.

Johnson had riled Russian officials before his visit by telling Britain’s Sunday Times newspaper that Moscow was “closed, nasty, militaristic and anti-democratic”.

But when asked about the comment on Friday, he rowed back, saying he had been referring to the Soviet Union, not modern Russia.

Russian media has portrayed Johnson as anti-Russian. Johnson told reporters on Friday however that he was “a committed Russophile”.

(Editing by Catherine Evans)

‘Congratulations’: EU launches next phase of Brexit but warns of tough talks ahead

'Congratulations': EU launches next phase of Brexit but warns of tough talks ahead

By Philip Blenkinsop and Robin Emmott

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Union agreed on Friday to move Brexit talks onto trade and a transition pact but some leaders cautioned that the final year of Britain’s divorce negotiations could be fraught with peril.

On the second day of a Brussels summit, EU leaders agreed “sufficient progress” was made after a deal on citizens’ rights, the Irish border and Britain’s outstanding payments, giving negotiators a mandate to move on to the main phase of talks.

“EU leaders agree to move on to the second phase of Brexit talks. Congratulations PM Theresa May,” European Council President Donald Tusk, who chairs EU summits, said on Twitter.

Discussion of a transition period to calm nerves among businesses is due to start in the new year, although talks on a future free trade pact will not begin until after March — a date underlined by “guidelines” that set out how to proceed as Britain seeks to unravel more than 40 years of membership.

May replied via Twitter, thanking Tusk and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker: “Today is an important step on the road to delivering a smooth and orderly Brexit and forging our deep and special future partnership,” May said.

“We will deliver on the will of the British people and get the best Brexit deal for our country – securing the greatest possible access to European markets, boosting free trade with countries across the world, and delivering control over our borders, laws and money,” she added.

However, the future partnership discussion is set to be difficult, leaders including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Juncker and Italy’s Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni warned.

Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern went further, saying even a primary school student could see that the “first phase” deal on the Irish border would come back to haunt the talks because it was impossible for Britain to leave the bloc’s single market while avoiding a hard border on the island of Ireland.

“There cannot be any border controls between Northern and southern Ireland, there cannot be border controls between Northern Ireland and the UK, but there can between UK and the EU,” he said.

“So our primary school students can see that there is a riddle to be solved.”

In more formal language, leaders used the nine-point guidelines they agreed at the summit to support May’s call for a two-year transition out of the bloc, which aims to help British business and citizens adjust to life after the European Union.

Leaders reiterated their position that Britain cannot conclude a free-trade accord with the European Union until it has left and become a “third country”.

“AMBITION, CREATIVITY”

In coded language aimed at ensuring that Britain’s departure will not set a precedent for others and further undermine the bloc, leaders also agreed to “ensure a balance of rights and obligations” during Britain’s transition period.

Ireland’s Prime Minister Leo Varadkar cautioned that there were “quite divergent opinions” on how a new relationship and transition would look. EU officials are unsure exactly how far Britain should continue to receive the full, unfettered economic benefits of EU membership during a transition after it leaves, even if it loses political representation in Brussels.

A day after she suffered a defeat in parliament over her blueprint for quitting the EU, May won applause from her peers on Thursday evening. As she left to return to London, she said she was eager to move on, once her peers give the formal green light to trade talks on Friday.

The EU is willing to start talks next month on a roughly two-year transition period to ease Britain out after March 2019, but has asked for more detail from London on what it wants before it will open trade negotiations from March of next year.

A British government official said the prime minister was approaching the next phase, which will discuss a transition period as well as the terms of the future trading relationship, “with ambition and creativity”.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel gave her stamp of approval, but cautioned time was running out.

“We made clear that Theresa May has made an offer that should allow us to say that we have seen sufficient progress,” she told reporters. “Nevertheless, there are still a lot of problems to solve. And time is of the essence.”

May, weakened after losing her Conservative Party’s majority in a June election, has so far carried her divided government and party with her as she negotiated the first phase of talks on how much Britain should pay to leave the EU, the border with Ireland and the status of EU citizens in Britain.

But the next, more decisive phase of the negotiations will further test her authority by exposing the deep rifts among her top team of ministers over what Britain should become after Brexit.

(Additional reporting by Luke Baker, Alastair Macdonald and Liz Piper in Brussels; Writing by Guy Faulconbridge and Alastair Macdonald; Editing by Mark John)

Britons can change terms of Brexit to diverge from EU: pro-Brexit minister Gove

Britons can change terms of Brexit to diverge from EU: pro-Brexit minister Gove

By Alistair Smout

LONDON (Reuters) – British voters will be able to change the terms of the country’s relationship with the European Union after leaving the bloc if they don’t like the final Brexit deal, senior cabinet minister and pro-Brexit lawmaker Michael Gove said on Saturday.

Britain and the EU achieved “sufficient progress” in Brexit negotiations on Friday to allow them to move on to discussing future trade ties, in a move welcomed by Gove and other Brexit supporters in Prime Minister Theresa May’s Conservative Party.

However, while Gove, who is Britain’s environment minister, reiterated his support for May, he gave succour to critics of the deal by saying that if Britons were dissatisfied with the terms of Brexit, future governments could change it.

“The British people will be in control. By the time of the next election, EU law and any new treaty with the EU will cease to have primacy or direct effect in UK law,” Gove wrote in a column in the Daily Telegraph.

“If the British people dislike the arrangement that we have negotiated with the EU, the agreement will allow a future government to diverge.”

Britain is due to exit the EU in March 2019. The next election is not scheduled until 2022, though there has been speculation in British media that it could come earlier, given May’s lack of a parliamentary majority and deep divisions within her party about Brexit.

Some eurosceptic voices outside the government have said that May has betrayed British “leave” voters and given in to EU demands with the agreement.

TOUGH WEEK

It has been a tough week for May after Northern Ireland’s small Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) – whose support she needs in parliament – unexpectedly blocked an initial deal on Monday, leaving Britain and the EU scrambling to find wording acceptable to all sides ahead of next week’s summit of EU leaders.

While agreement was eventually reached on Friday, Gove said that all UK proposals were provisional on a final deal being done, and even then, that arrangement could be revisited by future governments.

Matthew Parris, an anti-Brexit columnist and former Conservative lawmaker, told BBC radio that Gove might envisage a situation in which he would be spearheading a new approach to Brexit.

But Gove, who was briefly in the running to lead the party last year, praised May on Saturday, and said the deal was a result of her “tenacity and skill”.

Fellow pro-Brexit cabinet colleague Andrea Leadsom defended his comments, saying it did not imply that May would be replaced before the next election.

“It’s simply the case that in taking back control (from Brussels)… it will be for the voters to determine what future governments do,” Leadsom told BBC radio. “I think it is a statement of the obvious.”

(Reporting by Alistair Smout; Editing by Gareth Jones)