OUR DOUGHTY PRIME MINISTER STILL BATTLING FOR A DEAL
AFTER surviving what some senior Tories predicted would be a week of hell, Theresa May faces a spell in purgatory over the next few days. The Prime Minister is heading to Brussels for yet another summit that is unlikely to deliver any relief from her Brexit torture.
Diplomats had billed the gathering of European leaders in the EU’s bizarre, egg-shaped talking shop as the breakthrough moment in the UK’s departure negotiations. But without full Cabinet support for her latest proposals for a Brexit deal, crunch time has been delayed once again. Mrs May must feel like one of the Second World War bomber pilots in the satirical novel Catch-22, constantly seeing her final European mission pushed forward to some unattainable point in the distant future.
Brexit enthusiasts in the Cabinet are infuriated by the way the Brussels negotiations have become so mired in the complexities of the Irish border row. One ministerial source said the Prime Minister’s agreement with the EU last December – the so-called backstop contingency measure, designed to cover any delay in finalising customs arrangements between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic – has turned out to be a disastrous error that has made progress elusive.
Claims by EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier and other Brussels figures that a deal was imminent have been exposed as a tactic designed to put pressure on the UK.
Warnings from Downing Street that the big issues had yet to be resolved have proven correct when the Prime Minister admitted on Thursday night that a deal in Brussels this week was unlikely. Yet for all the confusion this week, diplomats on both sides still believe Mrs May will conclude a deal with the bloc.
“It has been a case of dither and delay all along,” said one Government insider close to the negotiations. “This is how the EU has operated in every negotiation it has ever been involved in. They always want to drag things out until the last possible moment.”
That moment looks like it is coming in November rather than next week. Mrs May faces a lot more weeks of hell before the Brexit saga concludes.