European leaders want to have made enough progress on opening issues over Britain’s exit from the Union to allow both sides to start talking about their future trading relationship in October. Businesspeople are very keen for negotiations to progress to that stage, but they have been increasingly worried by how little urgency the EU 27 seem to be showing. “The individual governments have managed to be a bit like the three monkeys – I see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil – because they are completely off-sided by the mandate and the process the Commission is doing,” David Thomas, head of the council of British Chambers of Commerce in Europe (Cobcoe) told the Telegraph. “They [European businesses] are frustrated with their home governments… those governments have pretty much taken a back seat, not got engaged in the Brexit process and allowed it to stay as a purely political issue.”
Loosening Michel Barnier’s mandate would help – and would appeal to Brexiteers like JD Wetherspoon founder Tim Martin, who has today called on EU chiefs to “take a wise-up pill” to avoid economic damage to the bloc – but it would be hard to do as it would require leaders to vote for it at a future Council summit. David Davis’ team might have to make the most of the current state of affairs then.
That doesn’t mean there isn’t any enthusiasm in Europe for talks to move onto trade soon. A study by Cobcoe – based on the views of more than 1,000 firms across the continent – found there was unanimous support for starting on trade immediately. Hungary’s foreign minister, Peter Szijjarto, said at a meetng attended by Philip Hammond yesterday that “the most wide-reaching and comprehensive free trade agreement possible must be achieved” between the EU and Britain. Failure to reach agreement, he added, would prompt Britain to go off in pursuit of deals “with other major economic powers, which would contribute even further to reducing the EU’s competitiveness”. If other EU leaders start to recognise this, it should make it much easier for the British to move onto trade.
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