The annual gathering, called ‘Vienna Congress com.sult’ saw 1,200 participants scrawl thoughts and feelings about Brexit for a poll that concluded 80 percent of attendees believed it spelt disadvantages for Brussels as well as Britain. When asked “Do we need more or less Europe?”, 66 percent said yes, whereas 18 months ago during the same survey, half as many agreed with the question, with 31 percent demanding more autonomy for member states. In an answer to another poll question, up to 57 percent want other nations such as Montenegro and Kosovo to sign up to fill the black hole left by Britain after the March 29 deadline. A seven-bullet points “Europe Agenda” also listed guidelines for Europe’s future development, with an enlargement of the EU to include the Western Balkan countries, greater European integration, especially in the areas of security and competitiveness, a higher priority for digital transformation and increased international commitment to free trade and related agreements.
The news follows a particularly dramatic week so far for Prime Minister Theresa May.
With less than two months left before the UK’s scheduled March 29 exit date, a narrow majority in the British parliament instructed the Prime Minister on Tuesday to go back to Brussels to seek legally binding changes to what is arguably the most contentious part of the deal, the Irish backstop.
The backstop provision is designed to prevent a hard border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland by requiring Britain to keep abiding by some EU rules in the event it is unable to sign a comprehensive trade deal with Brussels.
The so-called ‘insurance policy’ would prevent checks on goods and people returning to the Northern Ireland border, which some MPs say could leave the UK shackled to EU rules indefinitely.
France said it would not renegotiate on the withdrawal agreement and Ireland has made it clear that it would not accept any changes to the backstop proposal, as has the rest of the EU, which has been blunt and united in its response.
European Council President Donald Tusk said in a tweet: “The Withdrawal Agreement is not open for renegotiation.
“We found out what the UK doesn’t want. But we still don’t know what the UK does want.”
Additional reporting by Monika Palenberg.