UK and EU to ‘accelerate efforts’ on Brexit

17 Oct

Following a working dinner in the Belgian capital on Monday night, Theresa May and European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker described a “constructive and friendly” exchange as they prepared for a crunch EU summit this week.

In a joint statement, they said: “The Prime Minister and the president of the European Commission reviewed the progress made in the Article 50 negotiations so far and agreed that these efforts should accelerate over the months to come.”

Mrs May made the previously unannounced trip to meet the top EU official as Brexit talks remain deadlocked over key divorce issues, including the UK’s financial settlement.

Government sources insisted the meeting had been planned for “a while” and did not represent any view on the current state of negotiations.

Theresa May
The PM held talks with top EU officials ahead of a crunch summit

Both Brexit Secretary David Davis and the EU’s lead negotiator, Michel Barnier, were also due to join the dinner, along with Mrs May’s Brexit adviser OIly Robbins and Mr Juncker’s chief of staff, Martin Selmayr.

The Prime Minister’s visit comes before a European Council summit this week, where leaders of the 27 other EU member states will be updated on the progress of the UK’s exit negotiations.

The EU27 will also decide whether to agree the start of the EU’s internal preparations for the second phase of Brexit talks, on transitional arrangements and future trading terms.

If they do, it will offer the Government some hope of negotiations progressing to discussions on the future UK-EU relationship before the end of the year, despite suggestions Germany is hardening its stance.

Ahead of her meeting with Mr Juncker, the Prime Minister held calls with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron and Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar in a concerted diplomatic push.

The joint statement from Mr Juncker and Mrs May revealed the pair also discussed “current European and global challenges” in a “broad” discussion, including efforts to combat terrorism and Donald Trump’s decision not to recertify the Iran nuclear deal.

Despite what Mr Barnier has termed a “disturbing” impasse in negotiations over Britain’s exit payment to the EU, the Prime Minister was not expected to make any fresh offers on withdrawal issues.

Downing Street pointed to Mrs May’s recent speech in Florence as the Government’s “current position”.

The Prime Minister has not yet detailed a precise figure but suggested the UK will cover the black hole left by its exit in the current EU budget, which lasts until 2020, as well as pledging to “honour commitments” made during Britain’s 44-year membership.

Mr Juncker has insisted the UK will “have to pay” to activate trade talks.

Michel Barnier

Barnier criticises ‘very disturbing deadlock’ in Brexit negotiations

Ahead of the Prime Minister’s trip to Brussels, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson urged the EU to “get on” with Brexit negotiations.

“It’s ready for the great ship to go down the slipway and on to the open sea and for us to start some serious conversations about the future and the new relationship,” he said.

The last time Mr Juncker had dinner with Mrs May, in Downing Street in April, leaked accounts of the meeting – blamed on Mr Selmayr – prompted a subsequent attack from the Prime Minister on EU leaders.

Commenting on the Prime Minister’s trip to Brussels, Labour MP Chris Leslie, a leading supporter of the pro-EU Open Britain campaign, said: “The blandness of their joint statement begs the question of what Theresa May actually did talk about in her meeting with Jean-Claude Juncker.

“We can only hope that this meeting will help to avert the destructive hard Brexit path we are speeding down; but no-one should hold their breath.”

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