In a statement to the UK Parliament today following last week’s EU summit, Prime Minister, Theresa May, stated that she was “ambitious and constructive” about the progress of Brexit negotiations. May talked up (again) progress made on safeguarding citizens’ rights so that EU nationals can remain in the UK and vice-versa. She also reiterated that significant progress has been made on Northern Ireland and that it’s been agreed that there will be no fiscal infrastructure at the border.
She had little to say about the critical issue of financial settlement – merely that Britain will honour its commitments for the remainder of the EU budget plan (2021) as she outlined in her Florence speech. She said that progress is being made as both sides go through these commitments “line-by-line.” May stated that the EU has agreed to make preparations to move on to the discussions about trade and the UK/EU future relationship and that this wouldn’t have been possible without the “momentum” that resulted from the Florence speech.
However, with the financial settlement remaining a stumbling block to progress, May was vulnerable to a renewed attack, which was duly delivered by opposition leader, Jeremy Corbyn.
Corbyn stated that he had a “worrying sense of Groundhog Day with every update” from the Prime Minister. After the Florence speech, he reminded May that she had talked about “momentum” in the negotiations and an agreement on citizen’s rights was “within touching distance”, both phrases which she repeated today. He lambasted the Prime Minister for still not having a clear idea when trade negotiations will begin and accused her keeping parliament in the dark as to precisely what she has agreed with the EU. He asked if she would confirm whether privately she said to the EU that the UK “would pay more than indicated in the Florence speech?”
Leaks from last week’s EU summit suggested that May might be prepared to pay more than 40 billion euros. The EU is believed to want 60 billion euros. Not surprisingly, May denied that more money had been offered and stated that she had a “degree of confidence” that sufficient progress will have been made so that discussions about trade can begin by December 2017.
There has been much discussion about the possibility of a “no-deal” Brexit in the UK media in recent days. Some members of May’s party, increasingly frustrated by EU negotiating tactics, would prefer the Prime Minister to walk away from negotiations. Labour Party Brexit spokesman, Keir Starmer told the Sunday Times that his party is reaching out to rebel MPs in the Conservative Government to force the Prime Minister into subjecting any final deal on Brexit to a parliamentary Vote. Starmer is also demanding five other changes to the so-called Great Repeal Bill – European Union (Withdrawal) Bill – including the addition of a two-year implementation period.
The wide variety of opinion in the Conservative Party about a “no deal” Brexit provided Jeremy Corbyn with ammunition to mock the differing views held by senior members of Theresa May’s Cabinet. Corbyn mocked the Government for Home Secretary’s (Amber Rudd) comment that “no deal was unthinkable”, the Brexit Secretary’s (David Davies) comment that “no deal was an option” and the Secretary for International Trade’s (Liam Fox) comment that “no deal was not Armageddon.” If no deal was “not Armageddon” wasn’t the Government setting the bar “a bit too low? asked Corbyn.”
Corbyn and other MPs emphasised that businesses wanted clarity on Brexit as quickly as possible and preferred a transition period. As Bloomberg reports
U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May repeatedly dodged questions Monday as to whether she will seek a swift agreement on the Brexit transition period that businesses are crying out for, rather than bundling it into the overall deal. Businesses are stepping up their calls for an urgent agreement with the European Union that would allow them to trade as usual for two years after Brexit.
But May’s spokesman said that the transition deal would be part of a wider agreement, which isn’t expected to be finalized until shortly before Brexit day in March 2019.
‘Everybody has always been clear that we are looking to wrap all this up in one single go; everything will be agreed at the same time,’ the spokesman, James Slack, told reporters in London. ‘The point of an implementation period is it’s a bridge to where you’re headed, so you need to know where you’re headed to finalize that implementation period’. Asked by several lawmakers in the House of Commons a few hours later whether that was her position, she avoided the question, saying only that she was confident the UK would get a good deal.
One of May’s statements that caused mild amusement on our part was her assertion that both sides have approached the Brexit negotiations “with a professional and constructive spirit”.
One could argue that this contrasts rather too obviously with the confidential briefing about May’s dinner with EU President, Jean-Claude Juncker last week, that is thought to have come from Juncker’s office. According to Reuters
It was the second time in six months that a correspondent for Germany’s Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung who is respected for his access to Juncker’s team has published an account of the EU chief executive’s reactions after a dinner meeting with the British prime minister on Britain’s EU withdrawal.
May was accused of being “disheartened”, “discouraged” and “begging for help.”
The BBC reported her ex-adviser Nick Timothy accused EU official Martin Selmayr of being the source of the account in a German paper claiming Mrs May was politically weak and had ‘begged for help’ at a dinner. He claimed it showed ‘some in Brussels want no deal or a punitive one’.
Mr Selmayr denied involvement…The apparent leak of what happened in the dinner follows a similar incident in April, when Mrs May accused some in the EU of ‘meddling’ in the general election campaign after details of a dinner between her and Mr Juncker in Downing Street appeared in the German press. Downing Street said it had no comment on the latest reports and pointed out that both sides were of the view that the recent get-together had been ‘constructive and friendly’.
And Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said that although the tone of last week's summit was ‘more positive’ than he expected, he wanted the EU to ‘get on’ with talks on trade.”