Boris Johnson’s idea that Britain could “have its cake and eat it” over Brexit left Brussels chiefs with a sour taste in their mouths. “To all who believe in it, I propose a simple experiment,” Donald Tusk said last October. “Buy a cake, eat it, and see if it is still there on the plate.” He also claimed that there would be “no cakes on the table for anyone…only salt and vinegar”.
Today, the European council president stepped up his war on cake, declaring outside Downing Street while he was in town to meet with Theresa May that he hoped her “excellent” speech in Florence showed the philosophy of “having a cake and eating is is finally coming to an end”. Mr Tusk said he was now “much more optimistic” about the prospect of progress being made in this week’s round of talks. The Prime Minister shared in the bonhomie, declaring that they agreed “things had moved on” in the process. Her Foreign Secretary made productive noises to Sky News today, declaring that ” We’re putting some money on the table“.
Will that be enough to allow Britain to tuck into trade talks? It depends on if the EU decides “sufficient progress” has been made. Tory backbenchers think Mrs May should have limited patience for this ploy, as Iain Duncan Smith has suggested that Brussels should be set a December deadline for moving onto trade. The former Tory leader also called on ministers to “throw resources” at planning for a no-deal Brexit scenario, and to up the pace dramatically. His intervention will ensure that the pressure is on Mrs May from the off when the Tories gather for their conference next week.
The Labour conference has carried on in Brighton in the meantime, with Sir Keir Starmer telling attendees the party were now the “grown-ups in the room”. “We stand ready to take charge of negotiations,” he declared. But the Shadow Brexit secretary avoided in his address – and in the numerous other appearances he has put in on the fringe circuit – explaining how he would achieve his desired Brexit deal. So, I suggest online, the Labour knight must be relieved not to have to actually take on the Brexit talks, as the resulting give and take he would have to decide with Jeremy Corbyn on would see party unity crumble.
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