Davis/Barnier press conference after fifth round of talks.

(Given the recent Brexit developments, including the European Council summit and Theresa May’s Brussels dinner, I thought to share a summary of the last Brexit talks’ presser.)

Speaking after four days of negotiations, the Chief Negotiator for the EU, Michel Barnier, said the EU and the UK are in “deadlock” over the UK’s financial commitments, but progress could be made by Christmas.

Mr Barnier said the EU and the UK share the same objectives: protecting rights of EU citizens, safeguarding the peace process in Northern Ireland and getting a financial settlement.

Regarding citizens’ rights, he said there were two common aims: ensuring the withdrawal agreement has direct effect, and ensuring the interpretation of these rights is “consistent” between the EU and the UK. Both sides were working on this, and it would involve the European Court of Justice.

On the issue of the island of Ireland, Mr Barnier said the EU and the UK reached an agreement on the Common Travel Area (CTA). “Intensive work” had been taken on the Irish question, with more work to come. Both sides were examining North/South co-operation.

Mr Barnier said that on the issue of the UK’s financial commitments, both sides had reached “deadlock” which he described as “very disturbing”. With the UK still not ready to outline its commitments, he added this meant not enough progress had been made in the negotiations. Concluding his remarks, Mr Barnier said with political will, “decisive progress is within our grasp over the next two months”.

Following the EU’s Chief Negotiator, the Secretary of State for Exiting the EU, David Davis, said whilst there was still a lot of work to do, they have come a long way.

On citizens’ rights, they focused on ensuring how rights could be guaranteed in a fair way. The UK and the EU had not yet reached an agreement on how to enforce these rights, but various options were being examined and both sides were confident a deal would be reached.

Mr Davis said that with regards to the Irish question, more work was required but further progress had been made. Both sides have agreed to start working on common undertakings to protect the Good Friday agreement.

On the financial settlement, Mr Davis said that would be a “political issue”. Concluding his remarks, he stressed that both sides must discuss the future relationship, and expressed a hope that the European Council will allow Mr Barnier to let talks progress to discussing a future trade relationship.

Further talks over the next two months have been agreed.

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Brexit, leaks, and missing Bills: news summary.

What a week it has been, and we are only two days in.

Brexit update

Prime Minister Theresa May was back in the Commons on Monday afternoon, with a statement covering last week’s EU summit, and the round of diplomacy that preceded it.

Outlining the progress to date on EU citizens’ rights, the issue of Northern Ireland, and the UK’s financial commitments, Mrs May then concluded, ‘We are going to leave the European Union in March 2019, delivering on the democratic will of the British people. Of course, we are preparing for every eventuality to ensure we leave in a smooth and orderly way, but I am confident that we will be able to negotiate a new, deep and special partnership between a sovereign United Kingdom and our friends in the European Union.’

At the European Council Summit, Mrs May noted, ‘the 27 member states responded by agreeing to start their preparations for moving negotiations on to trade and the future relationship’. Which sounds great, until you remember that the EU27 agreed to commence internal preparations for negotiations on trade, not to commence trade negotitations themselves. Moreover, the EU27 made the formal declaration that ‘sufficient progress’ had not been made during the talks to date, the threshold required for talks to progress to trade. And what is more, they came to this decision in just 90 seconds.

Speaking of trade…

Theresa May is reportedly delaying a Cabinet debate on a future EU-UK trade deal because she is worried it will spark resignations.

Also – the Prime Minister and her most senior ministers are to embark on another round of fierce diplomacy over the coming weeks, aimed over the head of EU Chief Negotiator Michel Barnier and squarely at the EU27.

Of dinners and leaks

To no-one’s surprise, the recent dinner between Mrs May, Jean-Claude Junker, and Michel Barnier was apparently leaked to the Monday edition of Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung, better known as FAZ. (And yes, that name should ring a bell: that’s the very same German publication that published a detailed report of Mrs May’s disastrous dinner with Jean-Claude Juncker back in April.)

Once again, an unknown source has briefed the paper’s political journalist Thomas Gutschker with a detailed – and embarrassing – account of the Prime Minister’s latest dinner with Juncker, plus her later conversations with Angela Merkel and other EU leaders.

In a report published last Sunday night, Gutschker had said the mood at the latest dinner was “quite different” from the original May/Juncker summit in April. “She begged for help…Theresa May seemed anxious to the president of the Commission, despondent and discouraged.” The Prime Minister was also described as being “tormented,” sleep-deprived, with “deep rings” beneath her eyes.

FAZ also reported that Mrs May’s phone conversations with Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron were not seen as a charm offensive but as “calls for help,” which were rebuffed. “Merkel, Macron and Juncker could not be softened,” FAZ said. “All three insisted on further progress, especially on the sensitive issue of money, before there could be direct talks about the future. Brexit was not wanted and they could not solve the problems of the British for them, they said dryly in the chancellor’s office.”

However, the leak that wasn’t a leak that was a leak: European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker hit back yesterday and said “nothing is true” in the story, saying “I had an excellent working dinner with Theresa May.” When asked if Mrs May had pleaded with him for help, he said: “No, that’s not the style of British prime ministers.” President Juncker also rejected reports he called the Prime Minister “tired” and “despondent,” saying “she was in good shape” and “she was fighting, as is her duty, so everything for me was OK.”

According to The Times, German Chancellor Angela Merkel was ‘furious’ at the leaks, and is concerned Theresa May could be toppled and replaced during the Brexit negotiations.

What next for the Chief Negotiator?

Michel Barnier, the EU’s Chief Brexit Negotiator, has revealed that work has now commenced on the EU’s Brexit treaty, but added that he will quit his post before trade talks with the UK are complete.

Playing down the prospect of a no-deal scenario, Mr Barnier told European journalists: “I am convinced a path is possible as long as we de-dramatise the discussion. My team are already starting work on a draft of the treaty for the exit of the U.K. from the EU.” Mr Barnier warned a trade deal with Britain would be difficult and take “several years” to complete, but said he himself will step down shortly after Brexit Day in March 2019.

Budget woes

Budget day is now little more than a month away, and the Cabinet is at war over it. Cabinet rivals are apparently bidding to replace Chancellor Philip Hammond over fears he lacks the sufficient authority to get difficult budget measures through the Commons. The Times had the scoop this week, saying: ‘Last week’s cabinet discussion on the budget was described as “14 different job applications to be chancellor”. The meeting overran as so many figures around the cabinet table demanded to speak, including Michael Gove, Jeremy Hunt, David Gauke and Andrea Leadsom. One source said that of all the contributions, Mrs Leadsom’s were the most practical and sensible.’

Wither the EU (Withdrawal) Bill?

Day two of this week, and there is still no sign of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill this week. The list of amendments to date has, however, been published online. The PLP were apparently briefed by Labour’s Chief Whip that the Bill will not return to the Commons until after recess, week beginning 13th November…

Bercow versus the UK Government, round ??

There were extraordinary scenes in the Commons last week over the Opposition Day Debate on pausing the rollout of Universal Credit, with Commons’ Speaker John Bercow strongly criticised the UK Government’s actions (Conservative MPs were instructed to abstain in the vote), saying “this institution is bigger than one government”.

Now, he has now criticised UK government ministers for the “indefensible” delay in setting up one of Parliament’s key scrutinising committees, the Liaison Committee. The Liaison Committee, made up of the chairs of the various departmental select committees, has still not been set up more than four months after June’s general election.

Brexit, Borders, and lack of progress – news round-up.

Brexit negotiations: round four

Brexit: Fresh round of negotiations to take place [BBC News]

Brexit: Davis sees ‘no excuse for standing in way of progress’ [BBC News] The fourth round of Brexit negotiations commenced this week. This was the first opportunity for the EU delegation to respond to Theresa May’s recent speech in Florence.

As talks commenced, the EU’s Chief Negotiator, Michel Barnier, called for a “moment of clarity” from the UK. Mr Barnier said the process had been going six months and progress on key separation issues was essential. Mr Barnier said he was “keen and eager” for the UK to translate the “constructive” sentiments in Mrs May’s recent Florence speech into firm negotiating positions on issues such as citizens’ rights, the Irish border and financial issues, including the UK’s so-called divorce bill.

He issued a reminder that the UK was “six months into the process” and “we are getting closer to the UK’s withdrawal.”

Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, David Davis, said he hoped for progress on all fronts – but made clear any agreement on financial matters could only be reached in the context of the UK’s future partnership with the EU. He said there were “no excuses for standing in the way of progress”.

About progress…

Brexit: Donald Tusk says not enough progress in talks [BBC News]

Donald Tusk: ‘No sufficient progress yet’ in Brexit talks [POLITICO EU] European Council President Donald Tusk has said not enough progress has been made to move to the next phase of Brexit talks in Brussels. Speaking after talks with Prime Minister Theresa May, Mr Tusk said: “I feel now we will discuss our future relations with the UK once there is so-called sufficient progress. The two sides are working and we will work hard at it. But if you ask me and if today member states ask me, I would say there is no sufficient progress yet. But we will work on it.”

Mr Tusk’s comments come barely a month before the European Council will decide whether sufficient progress has been made to begin trade talks, as the UK wants. If it is determined that ‘sufficient progress’ has not been made, the EU’s negotiators will be directed to continue focusing the negotiations on the issues of citizens’ rights, the financial settlement and the Northern Irish border. They will not allowed to move to discussions about a transition period or the future trade relationship sought by the UK.

Northern Ireland and the border: round four

Brexit: Northern Ireland and Irish border on talks agenda [BBC News NI] Northern Ireland and the Irish border were discussed at the Brexit negotiations on Wednesday. Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, David Davis, said UK and EU negotiators will be “crunching through the technical detail” of the Good Friday peace agreement and the Common Travel Area (CTA).

Meanwhile, the view south of the border…

Leo Varadkar: ‘Too early’ to assess Brexit progress [BBC News] Prime Minister Theresa May met Taoiseach Leo Varadkar in London for talks on Brexit and Northern Ireland’s political deadlock. During her recent speech in Florence, Mrs May had reiterated the UK’s position that there would be no hard Irish border after Brexit. Although the UK will be leaving both the customs union and the single market, she said that both the UK and EU had “stated explicitly” they would not accept any “physical infrastructure”. Speaking after the talks, Mr Varadkar said he had encouraged Mrs May to be “more specific” about her view of the future UK-Irish relationship. He added that he thought it was too early to determine whether the UK has made sufficient progress during the Brexit negotiations.

News round-up: Brexit, Island of Ireland, and UK responsibility.

Welcome to the Houses of the Oireachtas

There will be a special meeting of the several committees with Guy Verhofstadt MEP, the European Parliament’s Brexit Coordinator, this morning from 10:30am.

The committees meeting Mr Verhofstadt for engagement are: Joint Committee on European Union Affairs meeting with the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Defence, and the Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement.

Further shores

In his address, Mr Verhofstadt reiterated that “the Irish border and all things related are a priority for negotiations” for the EU. The “unique solution” to Brexit issues in Northern Ireland is the responsibility of the UK government, which must consider the Good Friday Agreement. He suggested Northern Ireland could continue to be in the customs union and the single market post-Brexit as way to prevent a hard border on the island.

Mr Verhofstadt concluded his address with a lovely Seamus Heaney quote: “believe that a further shore is reachable from here.”

Brexit expedition

Mr Verhofstadt is on the second day of a two-day Brexit fact-finding mission on the island of Ireland. He met Northern Irish political party leaders on Wednesday, and will meet the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar on today.

Guy Verhofstadt: UK must find ‘unique’ Irish border solution [Politico EU]

Yesterday, Mr Verhofstadt said the UK had the responsibility to find a “unique solution” to the border issue. He suggested that Northern Ireland could continue to be in the customs union and the single market after Brexit as a way to prevent a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland – but this was a decision for the UK.

All eyes on Theresa

A special cabinet meeting at Downing Street this morning will give its formal backing to Prime Minister Theresa May’s landmark Brexit speech, which she will deliver in Florence tomorrow.

But remember: devolution revolution

Scottish and Welsh governments set out Brexit bill amendments [BBC News]

This week, Scottish and Welsh governments published proposals for amendments to the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill. First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon and First Minister of Wales, Carwyn Jones said the Bill is a “power grab” of devolved responsibilities. Writing to the Prime Minister, they said their amendments would allow the bill to “work with, not against, devolution”.

News round-up: EU Withdrawal Bill, Northern Ireland, and Parliamentary sovereignty

Parliamentary sovereignty:

Tories’ £1bn DUP deal will need parliament’s approval [Politics Home]

The breaking news today sees a hurdle for the UK Government to pass. The UK Government has had to concede that its confidence and supply agreement with the DUP – which includes £1bn of funding for Northern Ireland – must have Parliamentary authorisation. In response to a letter from Gina Miller, and the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain who had challenged the deal’s legality, the Treasury solicitor, confirmed that the offer “will have appropriate parliamentary authorisation” and that as yet “no timetable has been set for the making of such payments”.

Stormont Stalemate addressed:

Secretary of State for Northern Ireland’s speech to 2017 British Irish Association Conference [NIO] Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, James Brokenshire, spoke at a recent meeting of the British-Irish Association in Cambridge. He spoke of the need to “see a fully functioning, power sharing devolved government at Stormont”, “need to address legacy issues”, and the “necessity of making a success of Brexit, to which the UK Government is fully committed.” Addressing the current political impasse at Stormont, Mr Brokenshire said “the situation simply is not sustainable and if it is not resolved within a relatively short number of weeks will require greater political decision making from Westminster.” He added that this would have to begin with legislation to provide Northern Ireland with a Budget.

More from the British-Irish Association meeting:

Simon Coveney urges UK to remain in Customs Union [BBC News NI] The Irish Foreign Minister, Simon Coveney, urged the UK government to consider remaining in a customs union with the EU after Brexit. He said he found it “difficult to accept” that the option should be ruled out before negotiations on trade have even begun.

Micheál Martin calls for NI to be ‘special economic zone’ [BBC News NI] The leader of Ireland’s main opposition party suggested that Northern Ireland should become part of a “special economic zone” (SEZ). Micheál Martin said Northern Ireland as a SEZ could be recognised by the EU as being “distinct from the rest of the UK in terms of single market and customs union access.”

Parliamentary Corner:

Brexit: Ministers warn of ‘chaos’ if repeal bill rejected [BBC News]

Voting against EU bill means ‘chaotic’ Brexit, claims David Davis [Politics Home]

  • The Commons will hold a special late-night sitting tonight as MPs cast their first votes on the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill. MPs will debate until midnight, before holding a series of votes on the bill’s second reading. Both sides expect a narrow win for the UK Government, with potential Tory rebels holding fire until the bill’s eight-day committee stage – due to start next month. In a statement issued overnight by the Department for Exiting the European Union, Secretary of State David Davis said those voting against the bill want “a chaotic exit from the European Union.” Labour says it will oppose the bill, claiming it represents a “power grab”.
  • Mr Davis said: “The British people did not vote for confusion and neither should Parliament…Providing certainty and stability in the lead up to our withdrawal is a key priority. Businesses and individuals need reassurance that there will be no unexpected changes to our laws after exit day and that is exactly what the Repeal Bill provides.”
  • The UK Government faces pressure from all sides of the House. MPs on all sides have raised concerns that Ministers are giving themselves too much power through so-called Henry VIII clauses, which allow them to change legislation after it has passed through Parliament.
  • Conservative whips are not the only ones facing a headache this evening/Tuesday morning. Some Labour MPs are hardcore Brexiteers, and will want to support the Withdrawal Bill – which would be in defiance of Leader Jeremy Corbyn’s imposed three-line whip.
  • Mr Corbyn’s authority might also face another challenge over the Bill. The question remains if any of the MPs from Brexit-supporting constituencies who, worried by Labour’s new-found ‘soft’ Brexit and the reaction to it from Labour-voting Brexiteers, might abstain on the vote.
  • The Commons will also vote to approve nominations for Select Committee membership today. The real drama re Committee membership is yet to come: the Committee of Selection’s membership approval vote takes place on Tuesday. The Conservative Government is facing accusations it is attempting a ‘power grab’.

EU corner

This week is about European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker’s State of the European Union (SOTEU) speech, on Wednesday 13th September.

The Committee on Constitutional Affairs in the European Parliament will today discuss proposals to reduce the number of MEPs to 700 after the next election, keeping the remaining 51 in reserve for a possible pan-EU list of MEPs.

Publication on EU Brexit position paper on Ireland/Northern Ireland

The European Commission today published its Brexit position paper on Ireland/Northern Ireland.

The ‘Guiding principles transmitted to EU27 for the Dialogue on Ireland/Northern Ireland‘ paper contains the guiding principles of the EU position on the issue of Ireland/Northern Ireland post-Brexit and is to be presented to the UK in the context of the dialogue on Ireland/Northern Ireland.

Notably, the EU is taking the position that the responsibility to devise the flexible and imaginative solutions necessary to prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland rests with the UK Government. There is a strong emphasis on the GFA, and maintaining the Peace Process.

Emphasising the ‘unique circumstances’ of Northern Ireland, the paper does not suggest solutions for the Irish border. It notes that the onus to propose solutions which’ overcome the challenges created on the island of Ireland by the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, and its decision to leave the customs union and the internal market remains on the UK.’

The paper outlines:

  • that as an essential element of the withdrawal process, there needs to be a political commitment to protecting the Good Friday Agreement in all its parts, to protecting the gains of the peace process, and to the practical application of this on the island of Ireland,
  • ‘flexible and imaginative solutions’ are required which must respect the unique circumstances of the island of Ireland, and avoid the imposition of a hard border,
  • North South cooperation between Ireland and Northern Ireland is a central part of the Good Friday Agreement and should be protected,
  • the UK should ensure that no diminution of rights is caused by the its departure from the EU,
  • the Withdrawal Agreement should respect rights, opportunities and identity that come with EU citizenship for the people of Northern Ireland who choose to assert their right to Irish citizenship,
  • that the continued operation of the Common Travel Area is fundamental to facilitating the interaction of people in Ireland and the UK and should be recognised, and
  • the EU has supported the Peace Process through  PEACE, INTERREG etc. Therefore the UK and the EU need to honour their commitments under the current Multi-annual Financial Framework.

Barnier/Davis hold press conference after second round of Brexit talks

Speaking after four days of negotiations, the Chief Negotiator for the EU, Michel Barnier, today said there has been no “decisive progress” on the key issues in the ongoing Brexit negotiations.

Opening the joint press conference this afternoon, Mr Barnier noted that at the beginning of the week he publicly voiced his concern at the pace of and (lack of) progress in the talks. He warned that “time is passing quickly”, noting that on the 29th March 2019, at the stroke of midnight, the UK will officially leave the EU.

Mr Barnier queried whether an organised “properly, orderly exit for the UK” would take place, or would the UK exit without an agreement. He said it was in the interests of Europe for the UK to leave with an established agreement.

Mr Barnier said firmly that UK demands regarding access to the Single Market were “impossible”. Worryingly for the UK Government, who are keen to start discussing future trade arrangements, he said he was “quite far” from being able to say to EU leaders in October that sufficient progress has been made to move the talks on at that point to cover the future trade relationship. As protecting the integrity of the single market is central to his mandate, the Single Market “must not and will not be undermined by Brexit”.

Concluding his remarks, Mr Barnier said that this week it had become clear that the UK does not accept that it needs to recognise its financial obligations after Brexit. He noted that, going forward, he is prepared to intensify negotiations.

Following the EU’s Chief Negotiator, the Secretary of State for Exiting the EU, David Davis, spoke of “concrete progress” in a number of areas but added there was some way yet to go.

Mr Davis said the UK’s approach has been informed by a series of detailed papers, offering pragmatic solutions and proposing options, not a single approach. He said the UK Government will publish a comparison on the UK and EU positions in due course.

Mr Davis said issues relating to withdrawal and the future relations are “inextricably linked”, and central to this process must be a desire to deliver the best outcome.

On the financial settlement, Mr Davis said the UK has a duty to taxpayers to “interrogate” the EU’s position, which its negotiators did this week. Whilst the UK has a different legal stance, it accepts that there must be a settlement in accordance with the law, and in the interests of the future relationship. There are “still significant differences” to be bridged.

Describing the third round of talks as productive, Mr Davis said there was a high degree of convergence on Ireland, and on CTA. There had been almost complete agreement on privilege issues, and on confidentiality.

Concluding his remarks, Mr Davis expressed his hope both sides would continue to work together constructively. He added that further papers would be published by the Department for Exiting the European Union in the coming weeks.

And with that, it is apparent that the European Council meeting, 19th – 20th October, is a key date for the UK Government, as EU leaders seek to determine whether the ‘sufficient progress’ test has been passed.