London, Nov 22 (AP/UNB) — British Prime Minister Theresa May said Wednesday that she has made fresh progress in Brexit talks at a meeting with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, as negotiators try to pin down an agreement that EU leaders can rubber-stamp this weekend.
The U.K. and the European Union agreed last week on a 585-page document sealing the terms of Britain's departure, but are still working to nail down a separate political declaration on their future relations after Brexit on March 29.
"Further progress has been made," May said in a brief statement after her meeting in Brussels with Juncker, but she added that "there are some further issues that need resolution."
May said the two sides have "given sufficient direction to our negotiators. I hope to be able to resolve the remaining issues, and that work will start immediately."
The meeting with Juncker lasted just over 90 minutes. May said she will return to Brussels on Saturday for more talks, including with the Commission President, "to discuss how we can bring to a conclusion this process and bring it to a conclusion in the interests for all our people."
An EU summit is planned for Sunday, but May shed no light on whether it will still go ahead.
As wrangling continued over issues including Gibraltar and fishing rights, European Commission Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis said Wednesday that the text on future relations was "not there yet."
He said diplomats would meet Friday to prepare Sunday's summit, and "they will need to see a final text before then."
"The Commission stands ready to consider the text and take any action at any time," he said.
At home, May is under intense pressure from pro-Brexit and pro-EU British lawmakers, with large numbers on both sides of the debate opposing the divorce deal. Brexiteers think it will leave the U.K. tied too closely to EU rules, while pro-Europeans say it will erect new barriers between Britain and the bloc — its neighbor and biggest trading partner.
May fended off a barrage of criticism from both opposition and government legislators Wednesday during her weekly Commons question-and-answer session dominated by Brexit.
Opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn branded the agreement "half-baked" — and said his party could negotiate a better one — while Conservative Andrew Rosindell urged May to ditch the plan and remove "the tentacles of the EU over our cherished island nation."
May replied that "we want to ensure we continue to have a close trading relationship with the European Union" after Brexit.
She said the alternative to the agreement was either "more uncertainty, more division or it could risk no Brexit at all."
Madrid has raised objections to wording in the agreement about Gibraltar, the tiny territory at the tip of the Iberian Peninsula that was ceded to Britain in 1713 but is still claimed by Spain.
Last year's EU guidelines on the Brexit negotiations effectively gave Spain veto powers over future relations between the bloc and the British overseas territory, and the Spanish government says it will vote against the Brexit deal if Gibraltar's future isn't considered a bilateral issue between Madrid and London.
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said Tuesday that his government "cannot accept that what will happen to Gibraltar in the future depends on negotiations between the U.K. and the EU."
But May reassured British lawmakers that "we will not exclude Gibraltar from our negotiations on the future relationship."
Spain's EU Affairs State Secretary, Luis Marco Aguiriano, said there was still time to "legally clarify" the agreement before Sunday.
The deal also needs to be approved by the European and British Parliaments — a tough task for May, whose Conservatives lack a majority in the House of Commons.
May won a reprieve from some of her Conservative Party foes after pro-Brexit rebels acknowledged that a bid to trigger a no-confidence vote in May had failed, for now.
But Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party — whose 10 lawmakers prop up May's minority government — has begun abstaining on votes in the House of Commons as a sign of their displeasure at the deal. The DUP opposes plans for keeping the border between Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland open after Brexit, saying it weakens the ties binding the U.K. by creating separate trade rules for Northern Ireland.
The prospect of Parliament rejecting the deal when it comes up for a vote — likely next month — has increased fears among businesses that Britain could crash out of the bloc without a plan to keep trade running smoothly.
Conservative lawmakers loyal to May also warned that defeating the agreement could mean that Brexit never happens, because Parliament would halt Britain's departure rather than accept a chaotic "no-deal" exit.
"I think people will take a careful look over the abyss ... and consider whether they think it is in the best interests of the whole country," Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd said.
"The Brexiteers may lose their Brexit," she added.
London, Nov 21 (AP/UNB) — British Prime Minister Theresa May is flying to Brussels to meet European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker in a bid to finalize a Brexit agreement between the U.K. and the European Union.
The two sides agreed last week on a document sealing the terms of Britain's departure, but are still working to nail down agreement on future relations.
EU leaders are due to meet Sunday to rubber-stamp the deal, but sticking points remain. Spain has said it will vote against if Gibraltar's future isn't considered a bilateral issue between Madrid and London.
May is under intense pressure from pro-Brexit and pro-EU British lawmakers opposing the divorce deal.
Before leaving for Brussels, she will face opponents of the agreement Wednesday during the prime minister's weekly question-and-answer session in the House of Commons.
Berlin, Nov 21 (AP/UNB) — Chancellor Angela Merkel says it's in Germany's interest to support a U.N. agreement on migration that countries such as the United States, Hungary and Poland have rejected.
Merkel told lawmakers Wednesday that the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration would ensure many of the conditions that already exist in Germany.
German officials hope the non-binding pact, due to be approved next month in Marrakech, Morocco, will reduce the flow of migrants to Germany by ensuring that they can expect humane conditions elsewhere, too.
Merkel used her budget speech to emphasize the importance of international cooperation, noting that Germany owes its revival after World War II in part to multilateral institutions such as the European Union and the United Nations.
London, Nov 20 (AP/UNB) — The U.K. and the European Union plowed ahead Monday with plans to have their divorce deal signed, sealed and delivered within days as British Prime Minister Theresa May waited to see whether rebel lawmakers opposed to the agreement had the numbers to challenge her leadership.
The draft agreement reached last week triggered an avalanche of criticism in Britain and left May fighting to keep her job even as British and EU negotiators raced to firm up a final deal before a weekend summit where EU leaders hope to rubber-stamp it.
The 585-page, legally binding withdrawal agreement is as good as complete, but Britain and the EU still need to flesh out a far less detailed seven-page declaration on their future relations.
May said "an intense week of negotiations" lay ahead to finalize the framework.
The deal has infuriated pro-Brexit lawmakers in May's Conservative Party. The Brexiteers want a clean break with the bloc and argue that the close trade ties called for in the agreement May's government agreed would leave Britain a vassal state, bound to EU rules it has no say in making.
Two Cabinet ministers, including Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab, resigned in protest, and rebels are trying to gather the signatures of 48 lawmakers needed to trigger a no-confidence vote.
One pro-Brexit Conservative lawmaker, Simon Clarke, urged wavering colleagues Monday to join the rebellion, saying "it is quite clear to me that the captain is driving the ship at the rocks."
Even if May sees off such a challenge, she still has to get the deal approved by Parliament. Her Conservatives don't have a parliamentary majority, and whether she can persuade enough lawmakers to back the agreement is uncertain.
It is also unclear what would happen if Parliament rejected the deal when it is put to a vote, likely next month.
May's government relies for survival on the votes of Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party, which struck a deal last year to back the Conservatives on major legislation, including finance bills. But the DUP opposes the Brexit deal's plans for keeping the border between the U.K.'s Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland open after Britain leaves the bloc.
In a warning to May, DUP lawmakers abstained Monday during several votes on the government's finance bill.
May argues that abandoning the plan, with Britain's March 29 departure date just over four months away, could lead to Brexit being delayed or abandoned, or to a disorderly and economically damaging "no deal" Brexit.
But opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn said his lawmakers would vote against May's agreement and also try to block a "no-deal" exit.
The agreement also must be approved by the European Parliament. Manfred Weber, who leads the EU legislature's largest group, said the initial assessment of the center-right European People's Party was "very encouraging, very positive."
But, he added, "it must be clear to our British partners that there will be no renegotiation of this text that is now on the table."
Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn said the deal "is the best one possible."
"There is no better one for this crazy Brexit," Asselborn said as EU foreign ministers met in Brussels before the Sunday summit of member country leaders at which the bloc intends to sign off on the deal.
Most contentious negotiating issues have been resolved, but Spain insisted at the Brussels meeting that it needed more clarity on how Gibraltar, the British territory at the southern tip of the Iberian peninsula, would be dealt with.
EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier said the EU foreign ministers "have agreed to the principle" of a one-off extension of the post-Brexit transition period if the two sides need more time to finalize a trade deal.
Under the divorce agreement, Britain would be bound by EU rules during the transition. It is due to end in December 2020 but can be extended by mutual agreement if more time is needed.
Barnier wouldn't give a specific end-date for the extension. It's a delicate issue for May, because some in her party worry the extension could be used to trap Britain in the EU's rules indefinitely.
May says any extension must be finished before the next U.K. election, scheduled for the first half of 2022.
May tried to build public and business support for the deal on Monday, telling business lobby group the Confederation of British Industry that it "fulfills the wishes of the British people" to leave the EU, by taking back control of the U.K.'s laws, money and borders.
May confirmed the government's plan to end the automatic right of EU citizens to live and work in the U.K., saying Britain's future immigration policy will be based on skills, rather than nationality.
She said EU nationals would no longer be able to "jump the queue ahead of engineers from Sydney or software developers from Delhi" — a phrase that risked further upsetting EU citizens in Britain, who have faced more than two years of uncertainty about their future status.
British businesses, longing for an end to uncertainty about what rules they will face after Brexit, have broadly welcomed the agreement. But some are unhappy with the immigration plans, which have yet to be revealed in detail.
Carolyn Fairbairn of the Confederation of British Industry urged the government not to make "a false choice between high- and low-skilled workers" that would leave many sectors short-staffed.
May said she was confident the deal "will work for the U.K."
"And let no one be in any doubt - I am determined to deliver it," she said.
In Brussels, Austria's minister for Europe, Gernot Bluemel, struck a more melancholy tone.
"A painful week in European politics is starting," he said. "We have the divorce papers on the table; 45 years of difficult marriage are coming to an end."
Port Moresby, Nov 18 (AP/UNB) — An acrimonious meeting of world leaders in Papua New Guinea failed to agree Sunday on a final communique, highlighting widening divisions between global powers China and the U.S.
The 21 nations at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Port Moresby struggled to bridge differences on the role of the World Trade Organization, which governs international trade, officials said. A statement was to be issued instead by the meeting's chair, Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Peter O'Neill.
"The entire world is worried" about tensions between China and the U.S., O'Neill told a mob of reporters that surrounded him after he confirmed there was no communique from leaders.
It was the first time leaders had failed to agree on a declaration in 29 years of the Pacific Rim summits that involve countries representing 60 percent of the world economy.
Draft versions of the communique seen by The Associated Press showed the U.S wanted strong language against unfair trade practices that it accuses China of. China, meanwhile, wanted a reaffirmation of opposition to protectionism and unilateralism that it says the U.S. is engaging in.
The U.S. has imposed additional tariffs of $250 billion on Chinese goods this year and Beijing has retaliated with its own tariffs on American exports.
"I don't think it will come as a huge surprise that there are differing visions" on trade, said Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. "Those prevented there from being a full consensus on the communique."
The two-day summit was punctuated by acrimony and also underlined a rising rivalry between China and the West for influence in the usually neglected South Pacific, where Beijing has been wooing impoverished island states with aid and loans.
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and Chinese President Xi Jinping traded barbs in speeches on Saturday.
Pence professed respect for Xi and China but also harshly criticized the world's No. 2 economy for intellectual property theft, forced technology transfers and unfair trading practices. He accused China of luring developing nations into a debt trap through the loans it offers for infrastructure.
The world, according to Xi's speech, is facing a choice between cooperation and confrontation as protectionism and unilateralism grows. He said the rules of global institutions set up after World War II such as the World Trade Organization should not be bent for selfish agendas.
Pence told reporters that during the weekend he had two "candid" conversations with Xi, who is expected to meet President Donald Trump at a Group of 20 summit at the end of this month in Argentina.
"There are differences today," Pence said. "They begin with trade practices, with tariffs and quotas, forced technology transfers, the theft of intellectual property. It goes beyond that to freedom of navigation in the seas, concerns about human rights."
The U.S. is interested in a better relationship "but there has to be change" from China's side, Pence said he told Xi, who responded that dialogue is important.
China's foreign ministry rejected the U.S. criticism that it was leading other developing nations into debt bondage.
"The assistance provided by China has been warmly welcomed by our partners in this region and beyond," Wang Xiaolong, a foreign ministry official, told a news conference.
"No country either in this region or in other regions has fallen into a so called debt trap because of its cooperation with China. Give me one example," he said.
China is a relative newcomer to providing aid, and its loan-heavy, no-strings attached approach has unsettled Western nations that have been the mainstay donors to developing nations and often use aid to nudge nations towards reforms.
In Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea's capital, the impact of China's aid and loans is highly visible. But the U.S. and allies are countering with efforts to finance infrastructure in Papua New Guinea and other island states. The U.S. has also said it will be involved in ally Australia's plan to develop a naval base with Papua New Guinea.
On Sunday, the U.S., New Zealand, Japan and Australia said they'd work with Papua New Guinea's government to bring electricity to 70 percent of its people by 2030. Less than 20 percent have a reliable electricity supply.
"The commitment of the United States of America to this region of the world has never been stronger," Pence said at a signing ceremony. A separate statement from his office said other countries are welcome to join the electrification initiative provided they support the U.S. vision of a free and open Pacific.
China, meanwhile, has promised $4 billion of finance to build the the first national road network in Papua New Guinea, among the least urbanized countries in the world.