[WATCH] British Brexit proposal is ‘reasonable compromise’, High Commissioner insists

British High Commissioner Stuart Gill hopes the EU will move towards ‘a proper, detailed negotiation on the removal of the backstop’ to avoid a no-deal Brexit

British High Commissioner Stuart Gill
British High Commissioner Stuart Gill
British High Commissioner says UK's Brexit proposal is 'reasonable'

The Brexit proposal put forward by the UK government is “a reasonable compromise” to avoid a hard border with Ireland, British High Commissioner Stuart Gill said.

Gill told a business breakfast this morning that all of the withdrawal agreement negotiated between the UK and the EU is included in the compromise proposal, apart from the backstop.

“I hope we can move towards a proper, detailed negotiation on the removal of the backstop… the UK will leave on 31 October, and if it is without a deal, we are prepared for it but the way to avoid a no-deal is to agree a deal,” Gill said, urging the EU to negotiate on the matter.

He was one of the keynote speakers at a business breakfast dealing with Brexit, organised by sister publication BusinessToday on Wednesday.

The UK is scheduled to leave the EU on 31 October unless an extension is granted. The meeting came 24 hours after reports that a phone call between Johnson and Merkel yesterday did not go well and a deal looks less likely.

Gill said British Prime Minister Boris Johnson wants a deal, and everyone in the EU wants a deal.

“We have a narrow window and now is the time to clinch the deal… the withdrawal agreement was defeated three times in the British parliament and the key issue was always the backstop... the proposal put forward now is a reasonable compromise,” Gill insisted.

The breakfast meeting heard guests raise various issues, ranging from the impact on the financial services sector, to food and medicine imports from the UK, to the impact on pensioners who receive a UK pension.

EU Affairs Minister Edward Zammit Lewis
EU Affairs Minister Edward Zammit Lewis

The extent of the interventions showed the wide-ranging concerns related to Brexit.

European Affairs Minister Edward Zammit Lewis said Malta preferred an orderly withdrawal of the UK but was prepared for any eventuality.

He also reiterated that Malta wanted to remain the most UK-friendly country in the EU and measures will be put in place to ensure that the transition will be as smooth as possible for British citizens in Malta.

Zammit Lewis said the government had drawn up plans to ensure that disruptions caused by Brexit would be minimised as much as possible for Maltese citizens and businesses trading with the UK.

On bilateral relations between Malta and the UK, Gill cautioned against the simplistic view that the relationship between both countries will go back to pre-2004 when Malta joined the EU.

“The world has changed, Malta has changed, the UK has changed, the challenges, the opportunities, and threats have changed. It would be complacent to say the relationship will simply reverse back to what it was but the UK-Malta relationship was crafted over 220 years, and only 15 of those were as EU member states… I am sure that we can have a relationship that last for the next 220 years,” Gill said.

Financial services disruption

Malta Financial Services Authority CEO Joseph Cuschieri said a no deal Brexit could bring about significant disruption in the European financial services sector, given the UK’s share of the market.

Cuschieri said the UK accounts for 80% of EU activity in certain market segments, handles 77% of euro denominated transactions, and 50% of EU fund management activity in Europe happens in the UK.

MFSA CEO Joseph Cuschieri
MFSA CEO Joseph Cuschieri

“The numbers show the criticality of the UK market in financial services, which makes it incumbent on having agreements in place between EU regulators and their UK counterparts,” Cuschieri said.

He said the spill over problems should be contained in Malta. “The MFSA has worked on an individual basis with some of the large financial services institutions and banks, and on a sector-wide basis in other areas to mitigate the expected impacts of a no deal Brexit,” he added.

Marika Tonna, CEO Business First, from Malta Enterprise said the agency was working with Maltese companies to help them adapt when the UK becomes a third country.

Tonna said the bigger companies that had experience in different markets, Brexit would not be much of a disruption, but for smaller enterprises that only worked with the EU, the UK’s exit could create logistical problems.

“We are working with microenterprises to help smooth the transition but it is obvious that there will be changes, and additional paperwork,” Tonna said.

She also noted that Malta Enterprise was also trying to attract UK-based companies that were seeking to co-locate part of their business to an EU country.

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