November 24, 2017
With no sign of negotiations moving on to trade, PM prepares for EU summit and meeting with European council president

Theresa May pushes for Brexit talks progress as she arrives in Brussels

Theresa May has made clear she is willing to lay down extra money to meet the EU’s €60bn divorce bill demands only if the bloc’s leaders can guarantee the widening of talks to trade and the terms of a transition period.
The prime minister, speaking as she arrived at an EU summit in Brussels on Friday, will meet the president of the European council, Donald Tusk, at the end of the meeting. She told reporters: “These negotiations are continuing but what I am clear about is that we must step forward together. This is for both the UK and the European Union to move on to the next stage.”
The British government’s irritation at the failure of May’s speech in Florence in September to move talks on to trade discussions has complicated the choreography of the next few days.
The UK’s negotiating team had been led to believe by the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, that a pledge to ensure no member state lost out in the first two years after Brexit, and to honour financial commitments made in the past, would be enough, only for Germany and France to overrule the European commission official.
At a meeting of the cabinet last week, it was agreed that the UK would offer more in the coming days than the €20bn put on the table in Florence, in an attempt to move the negotiations on from the opening issues of citizens’ rights, the divorce bill and the Irish border. However, the agreement was struck on the proviso that the EU guaranteed progress on to a second phase of talks at a European council meeting on 14 and 15 December.
The EU member states, however, need to consult their national parliaments, making such a guarantee, at the point at which the financial offer is made, almost impossible.
At a meeting of EU ambassadors on Wednesday, it is understood that concerns were shared by many member states if the stand-off continues for much longer that there will not be enough time to have an EU position by December.
Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, will need to present any offer to the Bundestag. The Scandinavian countries also have considerable domestic hurdles to leap before they can give their consent to judging that sufficient progress has been in made in phase one. As one one senior EU diplomat said: “The member states are not willing just to rubber-stamp an offer.”
The outstanding issue of the Irish government’s insistence that it needs to see tangible proposals from the British government on how they intend to avoid a hard border between the Republic and Northern Ireland is also proving a significant stumbling block in the negotiations.
The Irish want the UK in effect to keep Northern Ireland in the customs union and the single market to avoid a hard border, a suggestion that has been rejected by the Brexit secretary, David Davis, as an affront to the constitution of the UK.
Arriving at the EU summit – where leaders are meeting their counterparts from Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia – the Irish foreign affairs minister, Simon Coveney, said Dublin would not accept “aspirational” commitments to avoid a hard border but they needed “parameters of a road map” to that outcome.
He also suggested that the British government had “not been listening” in past months to the Irish but that the 26 other member states and Barnier were firmly united behind the Irish if they wanted to hold talks back in December.
Coveney, who said he would be meeting Barnier at the summit, said: “We can’t move to phase two on the basis of aspiration. We have to move to phase two on the basis of a credible road map, or the parameters around which we can design a credible road map ... We need progress on this issue, in the context of the regulatory-divergence issue. And I hope and expect that we can get that by December so we can all move on. If we can’t, then I think there’s going to be difficulty moving on.”
According to Bloomberg, the British government has privately suggested that the Irish could be given a specific rolling veto on any deal at a later date, if they allow talks to move on now.
As well as Tusk, May will be holding bilateral meetings with the leaders of Lithuania, Belgium and Denmark.
Meanwhile, the Irish government appears to be at risk of collapse after the party, whose votes the prime minister, Leo Varadkar, depends on to pass legislation, said it would seek to remove the deputy prime minister in a breach of their co-operation agreement.
Coveney said: “Ireland does not need an election right now. There is no reason why Frances Fitzgerald should be forced to resign. The issues that are under discussion are under investigation by a tribunal we all agreed to set up.”
Referring to the Brexit negotiations, he added: “The main opposition party ... are risking an election at a time when there are some really, really serious issues for the government to manage in the national interests.”
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