Theresa May and David Davis tried to break the deadlock in the ongoing Brexit talks by charming Jean-Claude Juncker last night, but all they could come away with was the agreement between both sides that negotiations “ should” accelerate. Agreeing on whether they “should” is one thing, but when ‘will’ they? Michel Barnier said this afternoon that he stood ready to “accelerate the rhythm” of talks, but indicated Britain had to compromise first “as to accelerate it takes two”. The question of whether talks can speed up, and how quickly they would do so, will be decided by European leaders when they gather later this week. As they prepare to give him some fresh instructions, Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel have been making sure they see a tougher stance taken against Britain. British ministers will be particularly irked by their manoeuvring, with Philip Hammond publicly chiding the EU as “ silly” for getting “hung up” on issues like the so-called divorce bill.
How can Britain get around this? Remainers might hope the government takes stock of the OECD’s suggestion that pulling out of Brexit could have a “positive” and “significant” impact on the UK economy, but it is worth noting that the think tank also admits that the impact of leaving could “prove more favourable than assumed”. Ministers have tried to focus European minds by suggesting they are ready to reject unfavourable terms of exit by walking away without a deal, but their efforts won’t have been helped by Amber Rudd – who told MPs this afternoon that the idea of a no deal exit was “ unthinkable”.
The Home Secretary was a prominent Remain campaigner, so it may be little surprise that she is less sanguine about walking away. Yet if the cabinet is meant to be a “nest of singing birds” – as Boris Johnson (who himself thinks a no deal exit would be “ perfectly okay”) put it – ministers should refrain from singing out of tune.
David Davis sought to remind his colleagues of the correct lyrics by telling MPs this afternoon that leaving a no deal exit on the table is “sensible security” adding that “any Government doing its job properly will do that”. He teased the Commons about what to expect from European leaders this week, saying: “Let’s just see what the European council comes up with on Friday, shall we?” Does the Brexit Secretary know something not yet in the public domain? If so, last night’s dinner may have been more worthwhile than might first appear.
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