EU talks soft while preparing for hardest Brexit

by John Wyles | 31.08.2018

For the best part of a year, there has been a suspicion in Brussels, scarcely masked by Michel Barnier and his team, that Theresa May would take the Brexit talks to the brink in the hope of last-minute concessions from the EU. For even longer, the prime minister has been hoping that such an impasse would panic some of the other 27 EU countries into blurring their red lines to allow a modicum of British cherry picking.

Despite all the talk of a “partnership without precedent” and being “stubbornly optimistic” at a press conference between Dominic Raab and Michel Barnier today, neither looked like they were about to blink first. The same tired platitudes were repeated alongside talk of “concern” and “urgency”, not least around how to solve the problem of the border in Ireland.

Downing Street mistakenly thought that the EU’s united front would have begun to dissolve at the beginning of this year. Instead, the fraying threads holding the Conservative party together have been the first to give way, dissolving any real possibility of governing party unity in favour of the Chequers proposals.

With David Lidington, May’s deputy, saying “it must be Chequers or no deal” the Commission’s expectations have been fulfilled and Downing Street’s have not.  Barnier and his colleagues have made it clear key aspects of Chequers are non-runners because they would compromise the internal market and customs union. The prime minister should not get her hopes high about vaguely emollients noises coming out of France: these are largely a polite thank you to May for dropping by in August.

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As the negotiations on a Withdrawal Agreement and political declaration on the future relationship drift towards their closing phase, both sides are now setting up for a blame game. London will try to mislead the British public into thinking intransigent Europeans were always bent on angry failure.

For the Europeans, especially those in Brussels, Paris and Berlin there has never been a greater need to stand by the letter of EU laws and principles, even if the price is no deal. These cannot be bent in first one direction then another for the sake of a special relationship with the UK – especially now that they are going to have to survive grievous populist challenges from Warsaw, Budapest and Rome that are rather more fearsome than Brexit.

The best outcome for the other 27 EU states would be adoption of a detailed political declaration setting clear objectives for negotiation during the post-Brexit transition period.  These are unlikely to cleave to the Chequers template especially on those governance issues compromising the authority of the European Court of Justice. The Withdrawal Agreement itself would also have to include detailed wording on a backstop to keep the Irish border open.

But what is the chance that May could make the necessary compromises when hardline Brexiters such as Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg are breathing down her neck? Even if she does further blur her red lines, will she be able to get MPs to approve any deal?

Today Barnier signed off: “Our work is continuous, it will continue.” But he knows a deadline is coming up fast. In the circumstances, it is not surprising that the EU is making emollient noises while preparing for the worst.

Edited by Hugo Dixon

5 Responses to “EU talks soft while preparing for hardest Brexit”

  • You can’t “negotiate” when one side doesn’t want to. May cannot “negotiate” with the Brexiteers as they made it plain they WANTED a No Deal outcome, the EU cannot negotiate with the Tory Govt as it was held hostage by the Brexiteers in turn.

    Britain is to be thrown off a cliff because of a tiny handful of extremists in the Tory Party, and the Tory Party reliant upon foreign hard-right money (from the US) keeping it afloat.

    I bet the EU now wishes it had listened to all the advice, and realised the UK was no longer a ‘democracy’ in any sense, and had instead hoped for the Corbyn win that they thought would be the disaster.

    Instead, they stuck with May, and we are stuck with May.

    Say “goodbye” to Scotland and NI, and any hopes for a “better tomorrow”, because the “strong and stable genius” madwoman is about to prove that “Brexit means Brexit”.

    The EU was never going “to blink”, and indeed, the rabid Brexiteers would demand it never opened its eyes again as they never wanted a sensible negotiation.

    Oh, in case you are wondering – all the UK hard-right Press already have the “blame the EU” articles already written. After all, as they have not the slightest basis in reality, they are just another normal output of the UK daily press.

    Fake News much?

  • This country is being pulled over the cliff by a bunch of spivs, chancers, crooks, snake oil sellers, bombastic charlatans, deluded fantasists, sociopaths, cowards, egotists, narcissists… Do you want your children’s & grandchildren’s future in the hands of such people? Aren’t there two doctors out there who can certify these people?

  • @Neil N

    What difference would it have made if the EU had hoped for a Corbyn win? How do you even know what they hoped for in 2017?

    Even the Daily Express haven’t yet suggested that the EU rigs British elections, though no doubt if they read this I will have given them the idea.