Everyone seems to be in a positive mood. It’s Friday after all. So, the technocrats too have changed their tune. The German Chancellor and the president of the European Council, Donald Tusk, said in a rather hopeful tone that Brexit talks won’t fail and that there is still the possibility of Brexit being a success. This comes after EU leaders have agreed today to start internal talks on their approach to the “second phase” of the negotiations involving their position on trade with the UK.

Following her meeting with Tusk, May said to reporters that the UK and the EU shared similar objectives of protecting citizens’ rights, something that contradicts previously held positions by the UK. She also said that the UK was going through the financial contribution proposals in detail to decide how much they owe the EU. Again, this also contradicts arguments that the British side has supported in the past. From using citizens’ rights as “bargaining chips” to saying that the UK owes nothing to the EU, opinions and attitudes have eventually transformed by the realisation that the UK needs to move on and make substantial offerings to the EU.

Tusk said that reports of a deadlock between the EU and the UK were exaggerated and insisted that the talks were progressing. He stated: “My impression is that the reports of the deadlock between the EU and the UK have been exaggerated. While progress has not been sufficient, it doesn’t mean there has been no progress at all. The negotiations go on and we will continue to approach them positively and constructively. I hope that we will be able to move to the second phase of our talks in December.” Tusk’s message is clear and positive, despite recognising that others, like Michel Barnier, have been a bit less optimistic. As he explained he was responsible for retaining the “unity,” and “positive mood,” whereas “Michel Barnier is responsible for the negotiations.” 

Juncker was also clear that the “no deal” scenario was something he hated and doesn’t want.  He added that no one knew what “no deal” means and that the British people have had no idea what Brexit really meant, despite voting for it. He explained that he would like “a fair deal with Britain.”

Macron Says May is Bluffing

Emmanuel Macron was a little bit stricter than the other European leaders and officials, saying that a no deal scenario was not even suggested as being part of the discussions. The French president gave a press conference on the second day of the EU summit, and said that there is still a long way to go. Talking about the Brexit negotiations, Macron said that any discussion of no deal is just “bluffing.” As he said, “There is one negotiator on the British side under the political authority of Theresa May. At no moment has Theresa May ever raised a ‘no deal’ as an option.” He explained that “noises, bluff, false information by secondary actors and spectators to this discussion or in the media,” in the UK, was just part of the discussions but was never brought up as an official possibility. He said that a no deal scenario was “In no case … part of the discussions. The discussions are going forward. They are going forward at a better pace these past few weeks. But the objective of all the negotiators is to get to an agreement on the first phase.”

Confederation for British Industry (CBI): Warm words aren’t enough

The CBI’s director general, Carolyn Fairbairn, welcomed the “warm words” at the EU summit but said that this wasn’t enough for firms across Europe which wanted more certainty.

She said: “A transition deal by year end is top of the list. We urge the EU to put people before process and take a pragmatic approach to recognising sufficient progress. And the UK must continue to seek to unblock discussions. Where agreement is within touching distance, make the final step. While all effort and goodwill must go into securing the new partnership, firms across the EU have no choice but to prepare for all outcomes, including ‘no deal’. Larger firms are already well advanced in their plans and the CBI will now support its small and medium sized members to do the same. Inevitably, as these plans are implemented there is a cost to communities, from Berlin to Brighton. Both sides must put the shared interests of UK and EU citizens first by providing a roadmap for the future, with transition agreed by Christmas so the shape of the final deal can be discussed early next year.”

There is nothing worse for firms and businesses to have to go through more uncertainty. This is why it’s important for May to resist any calls for walking away from the negotiations without a deal and forge a deeper and more meaningful relationship with the EU, in other words, “the British team should be thinking Keep Calm and Carry On rather than crying May day.”