‘EU leaders could prepare for post-Brexit trade discussions’
THE European Union could begin preparing for post-Brexit trade negotiations while refusing to discuss with Britain the nature of the future relationship.
A document seen by reporters in Brussels suggests EU leaders and chief negotiator Michel Barnier could begin “internal preparatory discussions” on a future trade relationship and a transition deal in a move which could offer Prime Minister Theresa May hope for talks.
Draft conclusions for next week’s European Council summit of EU leaders, which are subject to change, calls for work to continue to achieve “sufficient progress” on withdrawal issues of a financial settlement, the Irish border and citizens’ rights, to unlock the second stage of talks to focus on trade.
But it warns that Britain has not made a firm commitment on what Brussels sees as its financial obligations, echoing Mr Barnier’s concerns that a “disturbing” deadlock over the size of Britain’s exit bill means he cannot recommend moving on from divorce talks to discussions about future trade relations when leaders of the 27 remaining EU states meet on October 19.
His recommendation made it all but certain that trade talks will be delayed at least until the end of the year, and will heighten pressure on the UK Government to make preparations for a possible “no-deal” Brexit.
But the draft paper offered signs of hope that Mr Barnier and EU states could at least begin exploring trade and transition arrangements
Meanwhile, an aide to the Treasury’s ministerial team dismissed calls by Tory grandee Lord Lawson for Chancellor Philip Hammond to be sacked.
Former chancellor Lord Lawson accused Mr Hammond of undermining Brexit negotiations, claiming that his refusal to release money now for preparations for a no-deal Brexit was “very close to sabotage”.
But Chris Philp said: “That’s nonsense. Nigel Lawson was a great chancellor in the 1980s, but that was 30 or 40 years ago, and he certainly doesn’t speak for the modern Parliamentary Conservative Party.”