Saturday

4th Dec 2021

No sign of Brexit speed-up after May-Juncker dinner

  • Juncker and May's previous dinner, in London in April, ended in media leaks about a nasty atmosphere (Photo: ec.europa.eu)

There was little sign of "acceleration" in Brexit talks despite the friendly body language at a dinner in Brussels on Monday (16 October).

British prime minister Theresa May and European Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker said they had "reviewed the progress made in the Article 50 [Brexit] negotiations so far and agreed that these efforts should accelerate over the months to come".

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  • Davies (l) and Barnier also attended Monday's dinner (Photo: European Commission)

They said the dinner "took place in a constructive and friendly atmosphere".

Juncker also kissed May on the cheek and hugged Britain's Brexit negotiator, David Davies, on the way out.

May had made the trip to lobby the EU to start talks on a post-Brexit transition deal and on future trade relations at this week's summit.

Phone work

She also phoned French president Emmanuel Macron, German chancellor Angela Merkel, and Irish taoiseach Leo Varadkar on Monday.

But neither the dinner nor the phone diplomacy yielded a sign that EU leaders would grant her wish when they meet in Brussels on Thursday.

May's office said on Macron only that "they discussed progress in the negotiations and looked ahead to this week's Council".

May and Merkel agreed on "the importance of continued constructive progress". May and Varadkar spoke of "the importance of maintaining constructive progress".

Earlier in the day in Luxembourg, British foreign minister Boris Johnson had also called on the EU to launch the new phase of talks.

He said it was time for "the great ship to go down the slipway and onto the open sea and for us to start some serious conversations".

"Let's get these conversations going and stop letting the grass grow under our feet," he said.

But Luxembourg foreign minister Jean Asselborn repeated the EU line.

"Father Christmas comes in December and there is also a summit then," he said.

Behind the scenes

Behind the scenes, draft EU summit conclusions circulated on Monday said the EU would only start talks in December if "sufficient progress has been achieved" on three issues - citizens' rights, the Irish border, and the Brexit bill.

They said Barnier and Davies should already start "internal preparatory discussions" on "the framework for the future relationship and on possible transitional arrangements".

But the draft cut earlier language saying that the internal preparations should be "fully ready" by the end of the year.

Behind the scenes in Berlin, the German foreign ministry is taking a similar position.

A four-page ministry memo dated 11 October, seen by the Bloomberg news agency, said nothing about opening the new phase of talks before December.

It dangled the prospect of a "comprehensive free-trade accord" with the UK after Brexit, however.

It said the accord should be "balanced, ambitious and far-reaching", but with no British "cherry-picking" of competitive advantages.

It also said that broader British-EU relations should be a "close partnership" that covered "at a minimum" foreign and security policy, criminal justice, agriculture, energy, transport, and science, as well as the economy and trade.

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