12 Oct 2017

Brexit Deadlock

Theresa May had hoped that the offer of €10bn a year for every year of a transition, plus the hint, delivered in her Florence speech, of a readiness to consider more cash, might help towards  the price of the admission ticket to Trade talks.

Turns out the Trade talks ticket price is higher.

Some UK government figures had talked of how the European Commission might talk tough about rigid EU rules but the UK would be able to go round them to their political masters, the nation states, not least among them Germany. That would lead to pragmatic softening where the negotiating lines might appear rigid.

Turns out that the EU member states (led if not whipped by Germany) could prove to be a tougher obstacle than the European Commission’s negotiator, Michel Barnier.

That left David Davis today, at a press conference at the European Commission, trying to appeal to the EU27 to think again ahead of next week’s summit here in Brussels.

At the moment, he knows that when Theresa May leaves the EU summit on Friday morning to let the EU27 talk amongst themselves, they’re planning to concede pretty much nothing to the UK. The UK had resigned itself to the idea that trade talks wouldn’t be launched next week but had hoped they might be able to start talking transition terms, giving a much needed signal to UK businesses that transition was distinctly on the cards. Instead, there’s a decent chance that the EU27 decide that all they want to do right now is proceed to discussing their internal negotiating lines on the transition for a future EU/UK (date to be determined) negotiation.

Talks won’t actually be suspended, as some Tories would like them to be, but they might feel a bit like that.

Germany says the UK, if it wants any more substantial change in the talks, has got to offer a lot more than it has done already on money and needs to do it in writing. At a meeting of representatives of the EU27 in Brussels last week it rallied (maybe even whipped) the other 26 members to that cause. Theresa May doesn’t look in great political shape to take on some of the most ardent Brexiteers in her own Party and spray some written commitments in Brussels’ direction.

One observer said the fact that civil servants had a greater role right now in post-election Germany made things more difficult. They were even more rules-based and literal and hardline than their political masters.

Whatever the motivating force, Britain right now seems to have found itself the wrong side of the mighty European force that was supposed, according to some, to see them alright on the night on Brexit. Some in Theresa May’s Party will see this as further proof that it is time to walk away from the talks. And that’s a reminder to Theresa May, not that she probably needs it, of how little political capital she has to spare in finding ways to sooth Germany’s concerns.

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