The Brexit talks “started constructively” Theresa May declared on arriving in Brussels this afternoon. The Prime Minister hopes to build on the work David Davis started on Monday by using her time at the European Council’s two-day summit to schmooze fellow EU leaders. She will demonstrate Britain’s willingness to help its European allies post-Brexit by committing foreign aid money to a new £75 million plan to stem the flow of illegal migrants from Africa to Europe.
But that doesn’t mean her show of goodwill will be reciprocated by European leaders. They greeted her politely, and have given her a short slot at dinner tonight to make her pitch on protecting British expats in Europe and Europeans in Britain (this will be set out by the Government in a formal paper next Monday), but EU diplomats warn that they will give her a muted reception – in part to show that she will not be allowed to circumvent the multilateral negotiating process led by Michel Barnier.
The brusque treatment doesn’t stop there. The Prime Minister will then be escorted from the room so that Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, can update the other 27 leaders on how the first day of Brexit talks went. This evening “is not a forum for the Brexit negotiations”, Mr Tusk insisted, claiming that leaders will “only take note” of what Mrs May says.“Shaping the future for the 27 takes priority”, according to Angela Merkel. We’ll have the latest on what emerges tonight on our liveblog.
The Government still has to fight to get the relevant Brexit legislation through Parliament, as Labour and Liberal Democrat peers are threatening to ignore the 72-year old Salisbury Convention by voting against the necessary laws. Meanwhile, Nicola Sturgeon is threatening to derail their keynote Repeal Bill in Holyrood – although the SNP’s leader in Westminster suggests that could be averted if her administration can be represented in the Brexit talks. “Both these challenges will come down to an ability to count,” concludes Tom Harris. “Every step on the long road between here and Britain finally leaving the EU will be that much harder than it needed to be. And no one, neither leavers nor Remainers, should feel a shred of sympathy.”
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