May urged to quit Brexit talks over EU ‘sab­o­tage’

Daily Express - - FRONT PAGE - By Macer Hall Po­lit­i­cal Ed­i­tor

THERESA May faced re­newed calls to be pre­pared to walk out of Brexit ne­go­ti­a­tions last night after a top Eurocrat at­tempted to sab­o­tage a deal be­tween Bri­tain and Brus­sels.

The Prime Min­is­ter was urged by Euroscep­tic cam­paign­ers, in­clud­ing se­nior Tory MPs, to pre­pare to quit talks with EU chiefs if the is­sue of fu­ture trade is not on the table by the end of the year.

Their de­mand came after Euro­pean Com­mis­sion Pres­i­dent Jean-Claude Juncker claimed Brexit dis­cus­sions were pro­gress­ing so slowly that “mir­a­cles” were needed for the next dead­line to be hit.

His in­ter­ven­tion, a day after re­ports of “de­ci­sive steps for­ward” in the ne­go­ti­a­tions, was be­ing seen at West­min­ster last night as an at­tempt to de-sta­bilise the drive to­wards a deal.

Se­nior Tory MPs and business fig­ures yes­ter­day wrote to Mrs May urg­ing her to quit talks by the end of De­cem­ber if EU ne­go­tia­tors refuse to start dis­cussing trade. Their letter said: “If the EU is not se­ri­ously ne­go­ti­at­ing a free trade deal by Christ­mas the Gov­ern­ment should give no­tice that we will move to World Trade Or­gan­i­sa­tion rules in March 2019.”

The letter was or­gan­ised by Leave Means Leave, a pres­sure group cam­paign­ing for a break with Brus­sels backed by around 50 Tory MPs.

Sig­na­to­ries in­cluded former min­is­ters Owen Pater­son and David Jones, se­nior Tory MP Peter Bone, Tory MEP David Campbell Ban­ner­man and business lead­ers Richard Tice and John Long­worth.

It raised con­cerns about the Prime Min­is­ter’s Brexit speech in Florence, in­clud­ing an ac­cu­sa­tion that the Gov­ern­ment was not act­ing quickly enough to tighten bor­der rules after Brexit. The letter said: “The pro­posal merely to reg­is­ter EU mi­grants dur-

ing the tran­si­tion pe­riod does not pro­vide con­trol over mi­gra­tion.

“Given the sig­nif­i­cant level of public con­cern over this is­sue, Leave vot­ers will wish to see real change as quickly as pos­si­ble after the UK leaves the EU, and not a de­lay for at least five years after the vote.”

The Euroscep­tic cam­paign­ers crit­i­cised the Prime Min­is­ter’s plans for a two-year tran­si­tion pe­riod, continuing close ties with Brus­sels after the exit date in March 2019.

Their letter said: “This could re­sult in an in­def­i­nite de­lay to a proper Brexit. There is no in­cen­tive for the EU to ac­cel­er­ate a free trade deal, un­less they be­lieve we would move to World Trade Or­gan­i­sa­tion rules.”

Mr Juncker cast doubt on the talks yes­ter­day by sug­gest­ing that pre­lim­i­nary is­sues were un­likely to be re­solved be­fore a crunch EU sum­mit in Oc­to­ber in Brus­sels. EU lead­ers are set to de­cide if enough progress has been made to al­low the talks to move onto a sec­ond phase that in­cludes Bri­tain’s fu­ture trade re­la­tions. Mr Juncker, at­tend­ing a sum­mit in Es­to­nia, said: “At the end of this week, I’m say­ing that there will be no suf­fi­cient progress from now un­til Oc­to­ber un­less mir­a­cles hap­pen.” Fail­ure to hit the Oc­to­ber dead­line means it will be vir­tu­ally im­pos­si­ble to start trade talks be­fore the end of the year. Mr Juncker was just yards away from Mrs May at the sum­mit in Tallinn, the Es­to­nian cap­i­tal, when he made the re­mark. His words were echoed by other lead­ers. Dutch Prime Min­is­ter Mark Rutte also said both sides would need “a small mir­a­cle” to make the re­quired progress be­fore the Oc­to­ber sum­mit. Ir­ish leader Leo Varad­kar said “there’s more work to be done”. Bri­tain’s EU Exit Sec­re­tary David Davis and EU chief ne­go­tia­tor Michel Barnier were more op­ti­mistic after their fourth round of wran­gling. Mr Davis said they had made “de­ci­sive steps for­ward” while Mr Barnier said it was “a con­struc­tive week”.

And Mrs May yes­ter­day met Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel in Es­to­nia to try to win her sup­port for push­ing talks on to trade.

Of­fi­cials said Mrs Merkel, re­cently elected to her post for a fourth term, ac­knowl­edged progress was be­ing made. Down­ing Street added: “The Prime Min­is­ter and the Chan­cel­lor both agreed on the im­por­tance of set­tling the is­sue of ci­ti­zens’ rights at the ear­li­est op­por­tu­nity.”

Pic­ture: AFP

Mrs May, Es­to­nia’s Prime Min­is­ter Juri Ratas, centre, and French pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron, meet troops at an Es­to­nian mil­i­tary base yes­ter­day

Mr Juncker... ‘mir­a­cles needed for deal’

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