PM’s inadequate compromises cost UK more time

by Luke Lythgoe | 28.09.2017

Despite a further eight u-turns in Theresa May’s Florence speech, it seems she’ll need to make more before the EU shifts Brexit talks on to trade. The government is wasting time if it wants to reach stage two by the end of the year.

We knew EU officials didn’t think May’s Florence concessions represented “sufficient progress” even before David Davis and Michel Barnier arrived at the press conference marking the end of the fourth round of Brexit talks. The EU’s chief negotiator confirmed it could be “weeks or months” before the EU agreed to move on to the next stage of talks.

Admittedly the tone was more positive than at the last round of talks. Davis declared the negotiations had taken “decisive steps forward”, reeling off a list of deals on technical matters. Barnier welcomed concessions in May’s speech, saying it had brought a “new dynamic” to the talks. But he also warned of a number of “stumbling blocks” which push up hard against May’s already blurred red lines.

Barnier argued the European Court of Justice must have an “indispensable role” in protecting the rights of EU citizens currently in the UK. May addressed this in Florence, promising that the protections in the Brexit withdrawal agreement would be fully incorporated into UK law and that UK courts could take into account the judgments of the ECJ. This was a big climbdown in a bid to avoid full ECJ jurisdiction over EU citizens in the UK. Barnier’s reaction suggest it isn’t enough.

He was also unsatisfied with the progress on other citizens’ rights issues: family reunification rights; the transfer of social benefits abroad; and a streamlined system for EU citizens to apply for UK residency.

Money also remains contentious. May promised the UK will honour its commitments and no EU member state would “need to pay more or receive less” during the EU’s current budget plan. It remains unclear what the UK thinks those commitments actually are or the timeframe for paying them out. Barnier stressed that “all commitments undertaken by 28 (member states) are honoured by 28”, and that the remaining two years of the budget cycle was “not the end” of those commitments made by the UK.

The European Parliament has also today issued its own draft resolution on how to move the Brexit talks forward, calling for more clarity from the UK. As for a transition deal, the parliament has demanded that the UK abide by the whole body of EU law throughout – including freedom of movement and ECJ jurisdiction.

Therefore May’s speech did not achieve its main aim: breaking the deadlock in order to start discussing a new trade relationship. The UK will need to make more u-turns if there’s to be a breakthrough at the fifth round of talks ahead of the European Council summit at the end of October. Time has been wasted and the government’s weak position has once again been exposed – the EU, after all, has yet to make a single concession.

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Edited by Hugo Dixon