Top 3 developments
May’s car crash dinner
The Prime Minister is attempting to turn leaks about her meeting with Jean-Claude Juncker to her advantage in the General Election campaign.
Commission publishes Brexit guidelines
The European Commission has published its official Brexit negotiating guidelines, which call for the UK’s “orderly withdrawal” from the Union.
May accuses Europe of General Election interference
The Prime Minister has accused EU officials of using leaked details of her meeting with Jean-Claude Juncker to influence the outcome of June’s General Election.
May’s car crash dinner
Details of last week’s meeting between the Prime Minister and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker have been leaked to the German press. According to the FAZ newspaper, the meeting was fraught with conflict, with Juncker reportedly saying Brexit “cannot be a success”. Leaving the meeting, Juncker claimed he was “ten times more sceptical than I was before”. The following day Juncker reportedly called German Chancellor Angela Merkel to share his concerns, claiming May is “living in another galaxy”. Merkel subsequently told the German Parliament that British politicians are under the “illusion” that the UK can retain the benefits and privileges of membership once its leaves the European Union. Juncker’s comments, and the apparent solidarity of EU leaders, is indicative of the EU’s hardening stance on Brexit and the increasingly frosty relations between the UK and EU.
Davis rejects claim of €100bn Brexit divorce bill
According to a report by the Financial Times the EU has increased its opening demand for Britain’s Brexit divorce bill from £60bn to £85bn. The increase comes after Paris and Warsaw pushed for the inclusion of post-Brexit annual farm payments, and Germany’s insistence against Britain being granted a share of EU assets. Michel Barnier has said that whilst there is no desire to punish the UK, “its accounts must be settled”. Brexit Secretary David Davis responded by saying “we will not be paying €100bn,” and dismissed the figure as part of the “rough and tumble approach” of the negotiations. He promised that the UK would pay nothing unless a trade deal is agreed.
Davis has also this week warned Brussels against laying down the rules of the negotiations, and rejected the notion that Theresa May will not play a prominent role in negotiations. Responding to the EU’s assertion on Wednesday that the Prime Minister will be prevented from joining discussions at future EU heads of state meetings, Davis said “we are not entering these negotiations as supplicants. It is not for the other side to lay down every single rule”. He went on to say that May will talk directly to fellow EU leaders “on a monthly basis or more”.
Theresa May holds firm on double-track Brexit deal
The Prime Minister remains steadfast in her assertion that a comprehensive trade deal with the EU can be negotiated alongside discussions about the final Brexit divorce bill. Speaking in an interview on ITV May said, “I think we should be looking to negotiate a comprehensive free-trade agreement within this period of time that we’ve got”. May’s assertion comes after European leaders agreed their formal guidelines for Brexit talks on Saturday. The guidelines maintain European leaders’ insistence on a phased approach to negotiations, in which the UK’s divorce bill must be settled before discussions of future arrangements can take place.
Post-Brexit nuclear woes
According to the House of Commons Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee, the Government must act quickly to ensure the UK’s nuclear power stations remain open, and the UK’s energy supply remains secure. The committee said any gap between the UK leaving the European nuclear treaty, Euratom, and entering into secure alternative deals would “severely inhibit nuclear trade and research and threaten power supplies”. The Committee’s comments come after the UK’s nuclear industry issued its strongest warning yet to ministers about the danger of not securing a new international atomic power deal post-Brexit
General Election 2017
May accuses EU of interference
The Prime Minister claimed that the “bureaucrats of Brussels” had “deliberately timed” their threats against the UK in order to influence the June General Election. In an antagonistic speech outside Downing Street, May said “the events of the last few days have shown that whatever our wishes, and however reasonable the positions of the Europe’s other leaders, there are some in Brussels who do not want these talks to succeed, who do not want Britain to prosper”. Her comments are widely seen as an attempt to turn the damaging leaks to her electoral advantage. Juncker’s comments are evidence, she says, of the need for “strong and stable leadership”. Her promise of being a “bloody difficult women” during the negotiations apparently attests to how she can offer this.
EU Commission publishes Brexit guidelines
The European Commission has published its official Brexit negotiating directives, which call for the UK’s “orderly withdrawal” from the Union. The guidelines focus firstly on securing the rights of EU citizens in the UK (and vice versa), and secondly on disentangling the UK from all the rights and obligations it has undertaken as a member state. The paper also confirms the Union’s expectation of a settlement payment. How much the UK owes the EU will be based on Britain’s owed contributions to the EU budget, costs associated with the withdrawal, and its commitments to “specific funds and facilities related to Union policies (e.g. the European Development Fund and the Facility for Refugees in Turkey)”. Speaking at a press conference after the publication of the guidelines, chief EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier said he does not know what the final amount will be, but that there is “no punishment” for the UK. However, he also warned that the UK’s exit will not be a fast and painless process. He said, “some have created the illusion that Brexit would have no material impact on our lives or that negotiations can be concluded quickly and painlessly. This is not the case”. The Commission’s proposed negotiating directives look set to be approved by EU ministers on 22nd May. After approval the directives will form the basis for the negotiations with between the UK and EU.
UK blocking budget
The UK has irritated the remaining 27 EU member states by blocking negotiations of the mid-term review of the EU’s seven-year budget. British officials claim this in line with ‘purdah’ election conventions – which prevent the government signing up to anything sensitive in the run-up to an election. However, the move has annoyed European governments, who see it as obstructive behaviour. Speaking at the EU’s Brexit summit on Saturday, Juncker said “the UK is currently blocking the decision and… it would facilitate the beginning of negotiations if the UK were to be able to withdraw the reservation that it has entered in respect to the mid-term review”.
Union looks to Irish reunification
In a letter to European Council members, Donald Tusk set out the “potential” for a reunified Ireland. Tusk’s letter asks European leaders to endorse the idea that Northern Ireland could seamlessly re-join the bloc post-Brexit if the Irish voted for reunification. The letter identifies Ireland as one of the three priorities for the first phase of Brexit talks (along with citizen rights and the divorce bill), meaning that “sufficient progress” must be made on the issue before talks on a future relationship can begin.
Mr Tusk wrote: “In order to protect the peace and reconciliation process described by the Good Friday Agreement, we should aim to avoid a hard border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland”. However, Tusk’s intervention has reignited fears that Brexit could hasten the fragmentation of the United Kingdom, and has received significant criticism in both Westminster and Ulster. Westminster leader of the Ulster Unionist Party Tom Elliott, has responded by saying it is “irresponsible” of Brussels to get involved, and that the intervention would “not be good for stability”. Tusk’s move is yet another indication (like the Gibraltar question raised last month) of the Union’s willingness to intervene in key UK constitutional questions.
- 7th May – Second round of French Presidential Elections.
- 12th May – General Election candidates revealed.
- 22nd May – European Governments set to approve final negotiating directives.
- 31st May – Irish High Court begins hearing case on revocability of Article 50.
- 8th June – UK General Election.
- 13th June – Parliament reconvenes.
- 19th June – State Opening of Parliament.