Key meeting for Theresa May as Brexit talks enter decisive phase

British Prime Minister Theresa May (R) and European Council President Donald Tusk (C) talk next to EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker (L) at the EU Eastern Partnership (EaP) Summit in Brussels, Belgium, 24 November 2017. [Olivier Hoslet/EPA/EFE]

Theresa May hopes to break the Brexit talks deadlock today (4 December) with a new offer on divorce settlements at a crunch meeting with EU officials, as some of her party members urge her to walk away unless there is progress.

EU officials and diplomats say they are increasingly optimistic a deal can be struck on Monday, while cautioning that things could still go wrong.

Over lunch with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and European Union Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, the British prime minister will try to persuade them to start discussions on a new trade pact and a two-year transitional deal.

The European Union has given May until Monday to put forward a more comprehensive offer on the remaining separation issues before officials recommend moving onto discussing trade and future ties.

They want a pledge that Britain will pay what it owes the bloc when leaving, protect the rights of EU citizens living in Britain and ensure there is no hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

Tusk flies to Dublin in attempt to ‘unlock’ the Irish border file

European Council President Donald Tusk will fly to Dublin on Friday (1 December) for talks with Ireland’s Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, in an attempt to resolve the Irish border issue, probably the thorniest one holding up a Brexit deal with Britain.

The EU has said it will allow negotiations on Britain’s future trade relations with the EU to begin only when there has been sufficient progress on these separation issues.

Nadine Dorries, a member of Britain’s ruling Conservative Party who supports Brexit, said May should tell EU officials time is running out to move talks on to the next phase.

The EU has had “enough time now to decide whether or not they are going to discuss trade with us, they need to get on with it and if they don’t get on with it the closer we get to walking away with no deal”, she said.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and his Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier will meet EU lawmakers early on Monday, an EU official said on Sunday.

However, EU officials and diplomats cautioned that it was still unclear that a deal would be struck with the British prime minister when she meets the EU executive.

May portrays Monday’s meeting as part of preparations for an EU summit on 15 December – though the EU says 4 December is the last chance for her to make offers as there will be no negotiations at the summit itself. A British spokesman said: “With plenty of discussions still to go, Monday will be an important staging post on the road to the crucial December Council.”

Waiting for May, Brussels eyes December Brexit deal

When Theresa May visits Brussels tomorrow (24 November), EU negotiators will be listening intently for signs the British prime minister is preparing to risk a domestic backlash and raise her offer to secure a Brexit deal in December.

Since the referendum in 2016, high-profile opponents of Brexit have suggested Britain could change its mind and avoid what they say will be a disaster for its economy.

Half of Britons support a second vote on whether to leave the EU, according to an opinion poll published on Sunday.

Clock ticking

With the clock ticking down to the March 2019 exit date, May is under pressure to start talks on its future trade ties by the end of the year to remove the cloud of uncertainty for companies that do business in the EU.

If talks on Monday go well then EU leaders could give a green light to trade talks at their December summit.

More than 30 pro-Brexit supporters, including members of parliament and former Conservative ministers, have signed a letter calling on May to walk away from talks unless key conditions are met.

They include an end to free movement of people from the EU into Britain and for the European Court of Justice to have no further role in British legal matters after March 2019.

With significant headway apparently made on the financial settlement and EU citizens’ rights, a deal on the Irish border appears to be the main hurdle in the talks.

The Brief, powered by Eurogas – Squaring the circle of the Irish border

One of the three big issues in the first phase of Brexit talks, next to the financial settlement and citizens’ rights, is the problem of the Irish border – the UK’s only physical contact with the rest of the EU.

The almost invisible border between British-ruled Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic, a key component of the 1998 Irish peace agreement, was possible because both sides were in the EU and its single market.

Ireland has called on Britain to provide details of how it will ensure there is no “regulatory divergence” after Brexit in March 2019 that would require physical border controls.

But any solution will need the support of Northern Ireland’s pro-Brexit Democratic Unionist Party, whose ten members of parliament are propping up May’s government.

The Democratic Unionist Party has said it will not support any deal that leads to Northern Ireland operating under different rules from the rest of the United Kingdom.

Irish Deputy Prime Minister Simon Coveney said on Sunday his country had “no desire” to delay the UK’s Brexit talks, although not enough progress had been made so far.

An Irish government official said late on Sunday there was “still away to go” on reaching a deal.

“The Irish government remains hopeful,” the official said. “But at this stage it is very difficult to make a prediction.”

Council President Donald Tusk was on Friday in Dublin, conveying the message that the EU will refuse Britain’s demand for talks on a post-Brexit transition and future trade pact if Ireland is not satisfied with London’s offer on border arrangements with Northern Ireland.

“Before proposing guidelines on transition and future relations to the leaders, I will consult the taoiseach (Irish PM Leo Varadkar) if the UK offer is sufficient for the Irish government,” Tusk said.

“Let me say very clearly: If the UK offer is unacceptable for Ireland, it will also be unacceptable for the EU. I realise that for some British politicians this may be hard to understand,” said Tusk, who will chair the December summit.

“This is why the key to the UK’s future lies – in some ways – in Dublin, at least as long as Brexit negotiations continue.”