Frag­ile Tories warned over ‘bru­tal Brexit’

The Guardian - - NEWS -

time, con­tinue over a work­ing lunch and wrap up with an early evening joint press con­fer­ence by Davis and Barnier.

How­ever, the EU re­mains un­clear about what the Bri­tish want from Brexit fol­low­ing the elec­toral up­set that de­prived May of her ma­jor­ity. “It raises new un­cer­tain­ties and there is a big ques­tion mark about the po­si­tion the UK will take,” San­dro Gozi, Italy’s Euro­pean min­is­ter, told the Guardian.

Pierre Vi­mont, a vet­eran French diplo­mat, now at the Carnegie Europe think­tank, said lack of clar­ity did not mat­ter for the open­ing. “But the Bri­tish del­e­ga­tion will rather quickly need to put its house in order and to have a clear idea of where it wants to go,” he said.

Barnier is in­sist­ing the Bri­tish sign up to a Brexit di­vorce deal cov­er­ing cit­i­zens’ rights, the Brexit bill and the Ir­ish bor­der be­fore talks can move on to trade and fu­ture ties. Davis, who pre­vi­ously said the timetable would be “the row of the sum­mer”, is ex­pected to ini­tially bow to the EU’s ap­proach, although a spokesman for his depart­ment said: “As the EU has it­self said, ‘noth­ing is agreed un­til ev­ery­thing is agreed’.”

Ac­cord­ing to Barnier’s team, it will be the EU’s 27 lead­ers who de­ter­mine whether there has been “suf­fi­cient progress” to al­low ne­go­ti­a­tions to ad­vance.

An EU sum­mit in Oc­to­ber will be crunch time for the UK, when Barnier will hand EU lead­ers a re­port card on “suf­fi­cient progress” – a term left in­ten­tion­ally vague in the EU’s ne­go­ti­at­ing texts.

In re­al­ity, tech­ni­cal de­tails on the di­vorce are likely to spill over into 2018. The Ir­ish bor­der ques­tion is bound up with cus­toms rules; the fi­nal Brexit bill and legally wa­ter­tight guar­an­tees for EU cit­i­zens could take months to emerge. “Ev­ery­thing is in­ter­linked,” Vi­mont said.

If Barnier is to con­vince EU lead­ers the Bri­tish have made progress, he will need an agree­ment on prin­ci­ples. Vi­mont said: “He needs to come with some tan­gi­ble re­sults. The risk of break­down of talks be­cause of a break­down in the UK has in­creased – a bru­tal Brexit with­out any agree­ment at all, not be­cause any­one is ac­tively seek­ing that out­come but just be­cause of a bro­ken-down process.”

One Euro­pean diplo­mat said: “You still have those in the Con­ser­va­tive party hell­bent on a hard Brexit; Jeremy Cor­byn is smelling power and doesn’t seem par­tic­u­larly in­ter­ested in help­ing out – quite the op­po­site. We are ready to make this work but if we don’t have a re­li­able and strong and sta­ble op­po­site num­ber, it puts the process at risk.”

Sir Nigel Shein­wald, a for­mer Bri­tish am­bas­sador to the EU and the US, who was se­nior for­eign pol­icy adviser to Tony Blair at No 10, said the gen­eral elec­tion re­sult was a “recipe for chaos” and the Bri­tish gov­ern­ment’s tone com­ing into the ne­go­ti­a­tions had not so far pro­moted the UK’s in­ter­ests.

The chan­cel­lor sounded scep­ti­cal in an in­ter­view yes­ter­day about the fea­si­bil­ity of walk­ing away, but ac­cused Brus­sels of “pos­tur­ing and ch­est-beat­ing”. “No deal would be a very, very bad out­come for Bri­tain, but there is a pos­si­ble worse out­come, and that is a deal that is de­lib­er­ately struc­tured to suck the lifeblood out of our econ­omy over a pe­riod of time,” Ham­mond told the BBC’s An­drew Marr show.

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