The Brief: Cracks appear in EU’s united front on Brexit

The Brief is's evening newsletter.


The uniformity of the EU’s response to Brexit has been striking but today the first cracks in that carefully crafted unity appeared.

The European Commission, the European Parliament and the 27 member states have been resolutely on message since 23 June.

There will be no negotiation without notification of Article 50, which needs to be triggered as soon as possible, they said as one. The single market is indivisible from the four freedoms, they intoned as gravely as a chorus of monks.

Brits in Brussels got the sinking feeling that the only country that didn’t have a plan for the referendum result was Britain.

The EU has been well-organised during the phoney war period between the referendum and the expected triggering of Article 50 by the end of March 2017.

But today, on the eve of tomorrow’s European Council summit, the Parliament’s Brexit boss, Guy Verhofstadt, took the EU’s dirty washing out in Strasbourg and gave it a damn good shake.

He’d seen draft conclusions for tomorrow’s meeting of the EU-27. The Commission will lead the Brexit divorce talks and Council and Presidency staff will be in the negotiation room. The Parliament – even though it must approve the final deal – won’t.

Verhofstadt was furious at being sidelined. If EU-27 leaders don’t include the MEPs, he raged, they will open up separate negotiations with the Brits.

The Parliament needed to be in the room for the divorce talks from day one, he said. It would be better to have MEPs “inside the tent pissing out, than outside the tent pissing in”, he raged.

The Council always does its best to shackle the Parliament. It’s a sovereignty thing. It is also Brussels tradition for MEPs, and Guy is one of the best at it, to howl in protest.

Verhofstadt’s reaction was as predictable as it was avoidable. The Council dropped the ball by barely even paying lip service to the Parliament’s role in the conclusions.

Although they are far from a certainty, separate, parallel Brexit talks would be a major schism in the EU’s united front. Theresa must have been rubbing her hands with glee.


EU officials said tomorrow’s European Council summit will be a “minefield” of contentious topics like Syria, migration and Brexit. The Council is expected to ignore the Commission’s call for €50 billion in eurozone stimulus.

UK Brexit chief David Davis said the split from the EU could involve a transition deal if necessary, but agreement should be possible within 18 months. A diplomat has suggested that NGOs have contributed to a surge of refugee arrivals in Italy.

Today was also the last time Martin Schulz appeared in a Parliament plenary session as president. His term ends next month.

Gianni Pittella will face off for the European Parliament presidency against another Italian. The centre-right EPP group in Parliament chose Antonio Tajani as their nominee for the job last night. He’s a controversial choice given questions over his knowledge of the Dieselgate scandal from his time as transport Commissioner.

MEPs voted yesterday to give themselves tougher rules against bad behaviour. They can now be sanctioned if they use foul language, but they can still have two or three side-jobs.

Jean-Claude Juncker addressed the Parliament this morning ahead of tomorrow’s summit. He called for a stop to the war in Syria, asking fighters to “recall their humanity” and let civilians leave Aleppo safely.

Juncker postponed a new proposal to update rules that would allow workers in the service sector to move more easily around the EU. Jorge Valero has the story on Juncker’s fears that the proposal would ignite protectionist outrage about workers from Eastern Europe.

Thousands of Poles protested yesterday to mark the 35th anniversary of the Polish government using martial law to jail and kill dissidents.

EU trade ministers have toughened up sanctions against unfair competition – a move that targets China’s state subsidised steel exports that are sold at a loss in Europe.

A high carbon tax could end economic stagnation in the EU, the director of the French Economic Observatory told Aline Robert.

The European Commission’s office in France has launched a new website to debunk myths about the EU, just a few months before the presidential election – where far-right, Eurosceptic candidate Marine Le Pen is a serious contender.


It’s all about tomorrow’s European Council, the last of the year, and the dinner of EU-27 afterwards. Keep an eye on our live blog tomorrow. There is also a crucial vote on the reform of the Emissions Trading System in the European Parliament.


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