Brexit negotiations begin – has Brussels won round one?
The contrast between the suave and immaculately turned out Michel Barnier and our own David Davis at the Brussels press conference this evening was striking. Mr Davis looked like he might have run up several flights of stairs and crawled through some hedges on his way to the event.
Britain is widely being seen as having lost round one: the battle over sequencing. The EU has got its way – no future relationship talks until they’re satisfied there’s been sufficient progress on the exit deal (primarily EU citizens’ rights and the bill for leaving). One very prominent Brexit supporting Tory MP told me he was now deeply worried that the “nothing’s agreed until everything’s agreed” approach would enormously advantage the EU over the UK.
On Brexit, Mr Davis promised a government document outlining their opening negotiating position on EU citizens’ rights. Officials are talking about it as a big and generous offer. Mrs May is expected to outline it to EU leaders on Thursday when she speaks to the post-dinner gathering in Brussels about Brexit. The paper itself will emerge on Monday, he said.
Mr Davis also said he would speak to opposition parties. It wasn’t clear they would be consulted at the end of this experience. More informed, perhaps.
At last Wednesday’s Brexit Cabinet Committee meeting the Prime Minister told ministers that her Lancaster House speech remained the government’s position: the UK is leaving the Single Market and the Customs Union.
Philip Hammond seemed to accept this was the end of that matter for now and so stuck to the line in interviews at the weekend while allowing himself to attack the idea of “no deal” as a very bad ending to the talks. He also emphasised the need to look carefully at the transition arrangements and make sure they give business certainty.
If the General Election vote was (a contested view) an attempt by a lot of voters to temper Brexit, there’s no concrete movement yet in the government’s position.
We are still awaiting the Tory-DUP accord which Theresa May had hoped would’ve been signed up to by now. It’s not quite clear what the delay is about. Some sources have long suggested the deal is pretty much done. On Channel 4 News tonight, Iain Duncan Smith said pretty much that.
There’s some disagreement within the DUP over whether to parade their winnings with a press conference or not. Arlene Foster is said to favour some sort of public acknowledgement of the deal so another Downing Street appearance can be expected even if a full press conference doesn’t happen.
DUP sources have sounded anxious in recent days about how permanent Mrs May’s tenure at No 10 is and what that means for the durability of their deal. Some have talked of “chaos” in Downing Street as a new, reduced team tries to get on with the accord at the same time as being tested by major events, presided over by a Prime Minister on borrowed time.