A Miracle for Brexit before Christmas?
Jean-Claude Juncker, the President of the European Commission, has disappointingly confirmed that next month’s Brexit negotiations won’t include discussions of the future trading relationship between Britain and the EU. From the UK’s perspective, the EU leaders are acting as the archetypal patriarchs who are the masters of the negotiations and the guardians of the union, making it impossible for the UK to attain its object of desire.
Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, recognised in yesterday’s press conference with his UK counterpart, David Davis, that it would take weeks and months until “sufficient progress” is made, despite the positive reception of the PM’s “dynamic” Florence speech.
Juncker’s language, however, struck a more negative tone, especially when he told reporters that it was clear that “there will be no sufficient progress from now until October unless miracles would happen.”
Juncker was at the Tallinn Digital Summit of EU leaders in Estonia, which was also attended by Theresa May. The summit focused on technological change and the future of Europe as a digital leader, globally.
For Juncker, who stuck to the EU’s initial priorities in regards to the Brexit negotiations (resolving the UK’s financial obligations, settling citizens’ rights and the issue of the Irish border), it was obvious that not enough progress was made. When EU leaders meet again on the 19-20 October, to discuss migration, defence, foreign affairs and digitalisation, they will also review the latest developments in the Brexit negotiations. From what Juncker says, the UK’s hopes of getting approval from the EU leaders at October’s European Council summit have now been shattered since it is acknowledged that there isn’t sufficient progress.
The EU isn’t, however, suddenly changing its position. It has always argued that those priorities had to be met first, before moving on to discuss any trade relationship.
Theresa May, who has also been in Tallinn since Thursday, said, during a dinner last night, that she wasn’t leaving Europe but the EU, and that she was “willing to cooperate.”
In a speech at the summit, May proposed a post-Brexit security treaty with the EU, but she has been criticised for using this as a way to secure a better trade agreement with the EU.
May met with the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, in Estonia, and the two leaders discussed Brexit and citizens’ rights. May and Merkel held a bilateral meeting at the Tallinn Digital Summit. A spokesman said: “She said her Florence speech had been intended to create momentum in the ongoing talks and that the response from the EU 27 had been constructive. Chancellor Merkel welcomed the speech, and noted the good progress that had been made in negotiations this week. She looked forward to the next round of talks in early October.”
The spokesman also referred to May’s willingness to realise her promises: “The PM pointed to the commitment made in her Florence speech to incorporate the agreement reached on citizens' rights fully into UK law and make sure the UK courts can refer directly to it. The PM also stressed it was in everybody's interests to agree to a time-limited implementation period once Britain leaves the EU, to provide certainty to businesses and others in both Britain and the EU.”
As it stands, with the Tory conference (1-4 October) ahead, there won’t be any developments, until after it finishes, with many speculating that Brexiteers will expect May to take a tougher stance in the negotiations and May offering more clarity on the government’s Brexit bill offer.