Friday 20 October
Theresa May has not received the “sufficient progress” award she so craved at the EU summit in Brussels , but some ever so nice words of encouragement were delivered by Angela Merkel at a press conference late last night. This summit was marked in the EU’s deliberately slow negotiating programme as the earliest possible opportunity for EU leaders to decide whether to move onto trade talks. It has been known for some time now that, in the EU’s eyes at least, negotiations have not progressed far enough, in spite of May’s offer of a whopping £20bn a month ago in Florence.
With impending disappointment writ large, the EU, together with the 27 national leaders have sought let the Prime Minister down gently. First, there was last week’s leaked draft conclusions to this summit, which kindly set out plans for a treasonous transition deal. Yesterday, the Guardian revealed a concerted effort to be nice.
“There are ways to say it kindly and encouragingly, or less kindly and less encouraging,” said one diplomat.
But that is where the goodwill ended. May’s after-dinner speech last night, during which she pleaded with her counterparts to follow her in making compromises towards an “outcome we can stand behind and defend to our people”, was met with silence.
In the absence of sniggering – a common feature of the PM’s late night ten minute Brexit talks – the BBC has interpreted the reaction as positive, that’s taking a bit far.
The only occurrence of note reinforced an already well-known truth, Angela Merkel rules Europe. While other EU leaders unusually refused to speak to the media after the late-night dinner, the German Chancellor strode over to a solo press conference:
“I have no doubt that if we are all in clear minds… We are going to achieve a good outcome. As far as I am concerned, I don’t hear any reason to believe that we are not going to be successful,” she told reporters.
Threats on this side of the channel to pull out of negotiations and prepare for a no deal have clearly made a deep impression upon the European elite, Merkel included. Today, David Davis joined the chorus. According to the Times, he will present to the Cabinet a positive case for complete independence from the failing bloc.
A move that looks increasingly sensible. The EU’s current touchy-feely stance fails to mask its savage determination to plunder the UK for a £60bn-plus cheque, which, to its credit, the Government is reluctant to hand over – a weaker administration would surely have capitulated from day one. The Establishment needs to give serious consideration to the transition period, which Brussels will see as a huge gesture of goodwill on their part – indeed it already has in the form of the leaked draft conclusions. Even if the Government utterly betrays the country’s sense of dignity and continues to succumb to EU rules and rulings post-2109, sealing a deal with the kind of certainty and consistency businesses crave is impossible.
The City of London wants a transition deal struck by Christmas, but such an arrangement is far from straightforward, requiring amendments to 750 treaties with third countries in addition to inevitable wranglings between the EU and the UK (as if there are not enough). A senior EU official quoted by the FT describes the transition concept as “fool’s gold”.
The Government has a duty to provide the greatest possible certainty. Discounting formal relations with the EU beyond 2019 is the only definitive vision it can provide. Davis needs to step up.