Theresa May flew to Brussels last night for a secluded dinner with Jean-Claude Juncker but the outcome of the “friendly” meeting only drove home the point: the Brexit talks so far are completely lacking in substance. A free meal is a free meal, though.
May and Juncker, meeting ahead of the EU Council summit that starts on Thursday, both pledged to “accelerate” the negotiations, which have been largely fruitless to date.
Anyone who has seen a NASCAR race, studied physics or read about this bonkers EU-funded airport project knows one thing though: it is possible to accelerate in a circle and still not go anywhere.
Nothing that has happened over the last few weeks or months suggests that a brief dinner in the bowels of the Berlaymont is going to change anything about the nature of the Brexit talks.
The three key issues prioritised by the Council (citizen rights, the divorce bill and the Northern Irish border/peace process) are still pending.
They were meant to be resolved at this week’s summit in order for Commission negotiator Michel Barnier to be granted a mandate to start hashing out the future EU-UK relationship – an even more massive task.
But there is no chance of that happening because the UK wasted too much time running a costly and pointless general election and then arguing (mostly internally) about the guidelines for the negotiations, although those had been made perfectly clear by the EU27 ahead of the talks.
So the acid test for “sufficient progress” on the three issues is being pushed back to December. What happens after that is anyone’s guess.
Will the UK team start to get desperate in this bid to “accelerate” towards the Holy Grail of trade talks? That is a more likely scenario than the unflappable Barnier blinking first. One UK government official has already admitted that there “will probably have to be a crisis in November” about the financial settlement.
But what about the legendary “will of the people”? Surely that will prevent the British negotiators from granting their EU counterparts even an inch?
Don’t be so sure. A new survey has shown that Brits are largely in favour of remaining in the EU’s nuclear treaty, Euratom. That’s despite the UK government saying Brexit means leaving the atomic deal because the deal involves the ECJ.
If British citizens are willing to concede that staying in an agreement as important as Euratom is necessary, then all is not lost. There’s wiggle room and Theresa May should use as much of it as possible to break the cycle, make some concessions and move this circus along.
At the end of the day, there are far bigger problems to deal with. For example, did anyone notice that the sky has turned orange? Maybe we should look into that…
MEPs pay tribute to Malta’s leading investigative journalist murdered on Monday. Her work on Panama Papers exposed money laundering and corruption in Valletta and raised the question of freedom of thought within the EU.
Theresa May came for dinner in Brussels and dined with Juncker in a “convenient and friendly atmosphere”. Mick Twister @twimericks has a funnier resume.
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Look out for…
After May, Juncker will dine with the Visegrad group on wednesday. Somebody should warn him that indigestion is bad for health.
Views are the author’s