Little came out of the negotiating chamber during the last few days of Brexit talks, which either suggests negotiators were so keen on finding areas of compromises that they did not want to rock the boat with any hasty briefings, or they felt there was not much to talk about. Perhaps they had listened to Amber Rudd, who told Polish press that officials should ensure there are no more “ leaks”. The lack of detail meant that the men overseeing each side, David Davis and Michel Barnier, were able to shed some welcome light on what had been going on at this morning’s press conference. The Brexit Secretary thought that negotiators were making “decisive steps forward” and had made “considerable progress”. His opposite number acknowledged talks had been “constructive”, and seemed mollified by Theresa May’s Florence speech – remarking that it had “unblocked” talks.
However, Monsieur Barnier warned that it may take “months” before the EU feels enough has been done to permit trade to come onto the agenda as “sufficient progress” (the criterion EU leaders hoped to have satisfied next month) had not been met. The only way to reach it, he thought, was that “all commitments undertaken as 28 (member states) are honored as 28″. In other words, he wants Britain to pay up for everything it has promised to pay while a member of the bloc, even if these are due after its departure date. Our sketchwriter Michael Deacon was struck by Mr Davis’ irrepressible confidence in the face of his EU counterpart’s gloom, comparing his confidence to The Fast Show’s Swiss Toni. “The winking bonhomie. The silver-haired suavity. The purring self-assurance,” he writes. “All he lacks is the moustache. He should grow one. It would suit him. He looks like the kind of man who likes something to twirl.” Monsieur Barnier, the target of his charm offensive, was certainly playing hard to get.
The British Government will build on this tonight when Theresa May meets EU leaders for dinner at an informal summit in Estonia. The Prime Minister might hope to press her case on Brexit, but Council president Donald Tusk is determined not to have it on the agenda as he feels it should be discussed later on 27th October. That may ensure a cordial dinner, but if leaders want to show – as Emmanuel Macron suggests – that they could change the bloc so much that Britain could one day rejoin it, they are not helping themselves by shirking major issues like Brexit.
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