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Britain Faces Difficult Choices on Move to Withdraw from EU

An anti-Brexit protester carries flags opposite the Houses of Parliament in London, Britain, May 10, 2018. Britain's ruling party is divided over how it wants to withdraw from the European Union.
Britain Faces Difficult Choices on Move to Withdraw from EU
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Lawmakers in Britain continue to argue over terms of its planned withdrawal from the European Union (EU).

The main issue is how Britain will deal with the rest of Europe after the move, known as Brexit.

The EU is the country’s largest trading partner.

British officials want to secure the best possible terms for trade and for the city of London, which is a major financial center. However, the Conservative Party has yet to decide on many issues related to Brexit, especially those related to rules and trade.

Next week, Britain’s House of Commons, the lower house of parliament, will debate legislation for the withdrawal.

Lawmakers also will vote on amendments passed by the House of Lords, parliament’s upper house. If approved, those measures would increase British ties to the EU.

Many Conservative lawmakers who support EU membership and opposition parties are expected to influence the upcoming votes.

Distrust of negotiations among Brexiters

Britain and the European Union opened negotiations soon after British voters decided to end their country’s membership. After the talks, the British side has been represented mainly by non-elected officials.

Critics say these officials are seeking to keep Britain’s ties to the EU in place.

Some people support a complete break with the rest of Europe. They are known as hard Brexiters.

They warn that Britain could be required to obey EU requirements and follow rulings by the European Court of Justice. That could happen if Britain remains a member of Europe’s customs union or keeps its Single Market. They also say Britain could be blocked from negotiating individual trade deals with non-EU countries as EU members are.

Supporters of hard Brexit are concerned Prime Minister Theresa May might be positioning Britain for such a “backdoor” membership in the EU. They note she has delayed publishing a report on the government’s proposals for Brexit.

And, some lawmakers are angry that May has not been open about negotiations on how the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland will be treated after Brexit. Ireland is an EU member. They say an “open” border policy could keep Britain closely tied to the EU.

May’s Cabinet is sharply divided over Brexit. Her finance minister, Philip Hammond, wants to keep close ties with the EU in the same way that Norway does. His position includes keeping Britain in the EU’s customs union and membership in the Single Market.

On the other side is foreign minister Boris Johnson and environment secretary Michael Gove, who support a clean break. They are seeking what they call a “global Britain,” one which can negotiate freely and is not closely tied to the EU.

The disagreements are so severe that negotiations have not made progress. There are concerns that conflicts within the cabinet could lead the Conservative government to break apart, forcing new elections.

That could bring the opposition Labour Party to power.

One Conservative official said of the difficult situation: “It has become a shambles.”

I’m Mario Ritter.

Jamie Dettmer reported this story for Mario Ritter adapted his report for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

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Words in This Story

customs union – n. a general agreement on import and export taxes and policies that govern trade by a group of countries

shambles – n. a place or situation in which there is disorder

globaladj. of or relating to the whole world