Fragile Tories warned over ‘brutal Brexit’
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.