May urged to quit Brexit talks over EU ‘sabotage’
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.”
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’