16 Oct 2017

What’s Theresa May taking to Brussels?

Boris Johnson has rather hinted at the answer to the question “what has Theresa May got in her back pocket on her trip to Brussels?” She’s gone with some kind of sweetener on EU citizens’ rights which she hopes will break the impasse.

Speaking in Luxembourg, the foreign secretary said on EU/UK citizens uncertainty: “Let’s give them that reassurance, let’s put a tiger in the tank, let’s get these conversations going and stop letting the grass grow under our feet. So we hope very much our friends and partners will take that message and really begin some serious negotiations.”

Whatever the sweetener amounts to it’ll be hoped in Whitehall that it can trigger the European Commission to recommend to the European Council that negotiations between the EU27 and the UK start pretty much immediately on the transition period.

Whitehall sources say they are still clear there won’t be talks at the level of 28 on trade but they hope this gesture can secure a hard and fast guarantee in the European Council communique on Friday that the EU27 will start working out their stance on trade talks straight away.

Plenty of people in Brussels will tell you there isn’t really much to discuss on transition. It is a status quo transition only on offer, EU sources insist, in which the UK would have to accept all the current rules.

But No 10 wants some changes to that and Mrs May has floated the possibility of ECJ jurisdiction being superseded mid-transition by a successor, hybrid arrangement. She’s also got a DEFRA Secretary very keen to make sure the Common Fisheries Policy doesn’t continue in its current form through the transition without the UK at the table.

Can she really obtain such concessions? Can she even get talks at 28 on a transition?

Some involved in the Brexit process think the Germans and the French will be so terrified at the drumbeat of Tory backbench talk about a UK walkout form the talks that they will make concessions to make sure they get their hands on the £10bn pa that the UK has signalled it would pay for a transition.

The discussion tonight will roam across some issues that Theresa May will be in the room for on Thursday as well as the Article 50 discussion which she has to absent herself from on Friday morning.

One of Mrs May’s criticisms of David Cameron’s renegotiation was that he engaged too much with Berlin and not enough with the European institutions. Tonight will give a taster of whether she has a different approach that works better.

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