So just who is really messing up Brexit talks?

Good gracious! Someone tell me I’m not dreaming! A Eurocrat has spoken the truth about Britain’s negotiations with the EU.

In an article in The Times (£) Hans-Olaf Henkel, a senior German politician who is deputy head of the European Parliament’s industry, research and energy committee, accuses the European Union’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier of trying to punish Britain by making a deliberate “mess” of key elements of Brexit.

You don’t say!

Mr Henkel writes that the European parliament’s Brexit negotiator, Guy Verhofstadt, was responsible in “no small part for the disaster of Brexit” and “now wants to punish the British, full stop”.

“He says he doesn’t want to, but I’m afraid he does. My impression is that Mr Barnier wants to do the same. The reason is simple. They would seek to make sure that Brexit is such a catastrophe that no country dares to take the step of leaving the EU again.”

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The Telegraph – Brexit Bulletin

Good evening.

Theresa May made clear throughout the general election campaign that Brexit talks would begin just 11 days after polling day. She was right to say that, as David Davis has gone off to Brussels today to get the ball rolling.

Philip Hammond was not entirely helpful to the Prime Minister’s negotiating strategy over the weekend, but his Brexiteer cabinet colleagues are rallying behind her. Michael Gove – the new Environment Secretary – told the Today programme this morning that he believed she would still be in Downing Street when Britain leaves in March 2019, a view echoed by Boris Johnson. “There is a huge task to get on with Brexit”, the Foreign Secretary said.

Meanwhile, the formal pleasantries have been underway in Brussels. Mr Davis has exchanged hiking-related gifts with his opposite number – Michel Barnier – seemingly acknowledging that they have a mountain to climb together over the course of these talks. The first day of discussions have been focusing on the status of expats, the UK’s “divorce bill” and the Northern Ireland border, while British officials have been pushing to talk about trade relations at the same time as handling the terms of withdrawal.

The Brexit Secretary has vowed to thrash out a “deal like no other in history” with Mr Barnier. His EU opposite number will be a formidable negotiator, according to Mark Hoban – who dealt with him for years as a Treasury minister. “He prepares well and knows his limits,” he wrote in today’s paper. “This will help in the Brexit talks as he will know just how far he can go to secure a good outcome for both sides.” Both men will soon be wrapping up their first day of talks – follow our liveblog for the latest on what emerges.

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The Telegraph – Election Bulletin

  Good afternoon.

Parliament has been dissolved. Let the election campaign proper begin.

In a remarkable speech outside Downing Street the Prime Minister, Theresa May, has accused Europe of deliberately trying to influence the general election.

This follows on from two stories that have dominated the news this week. The first saw a leak to a German newspaper of details of Mrs May and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker’s dinner last week, and was seen as a German effort to undermine the PM. The second was this morning’s claim by the Financial Times that the EU’s demands for a Brexit bill has risen to €100bn, and Europe’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, suggesting that Brussels would pursue legal action to make Britain pay.

The Prime Minister, it would appear, is on the warpath. But don’t be too taken in her by her performance. Mrs May knows that she is the only party leader both willing and capable of negotiating Brexit. Support for Brexit remains strong in Britain, and far from giving the population second thoughts, the EU playing hardball will likely backfire, strengthening British resolve and driving voters toward Mrs May’s open arms. Even a relatively weak Tory government, yet alone a “coalition of chaos” headed by Jeremy Corbyn, would struggle to deliver Brexit. The message is clear, if you want a good Brexit, vote for a Tory landslide.

Of course this leads to the slightly bizarre reality that, by picking a fight with the EU now, Mrs May can secure the large majority that would allow her to play nice and make concessions to the EU after the election, by diminishing the power of hardcore Brexiteer Tory backbenchers. Might the EU be deliberately aiding this ploy? Probably not, but stranger things have happened.

All this has overshadowed what the Tory campaign had intended today to be about: Labour’s tax plans. The Conservatives launched a new campaign poster today, taking directly from their 1992 classic, which accuses Jeremy Corbyn of wanting “no bombs for our army, one big bombshell for YOUR family”. What’s in that bombshell? “MORE DEBT HIGHER TAXES” adding up to £45bn of tax and spend if you believe the maths coming from the blue corner. All in all, the Tories claim each and every family in Britain will have to pay £1,667 more tax per year under a Labour Government.

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Morning Briefing – The Telegraph

Good morning.

Theresa May is building a big, beautiful Brexit, but Brussels is trying to make her pay for it. The suggestion from the European Union’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier that the UK must settle a £50 billion “exit bill”, resolving its budget contributions until 2020,  has enraged Eurosceptics. Some suggested it was simply the EU’s opening position in any attempted negotiation, as Iain Duncan Smith insisted the amount Britain owed was “probably peanuts”. Others were derisive, with Dominic Raab concluding that it’s “good to know he [Barnier] has got a sense of humour”.
The EU member states have made sure to toe the line following the European Council meeting in Brussels. Tomas Prouza, the Czech Republic’s Europe minister, told Sky News that Britain should “definitely” expect a bill worth tens of billions of pounds, adding: “This is what the UK has already committed to pay, and we would expect that the UK would honour its commitments”. Downing Street insists that any financial settlement after leaving the EU would be a matter for negotiation, but that it would meet its obligations while part of the bloc. Is there a figure the Prime Minister could settle that would satisfy Leavers? Possibly not, as some seem to be insulted by the idea that she would even discuss the issue. Ukip MEP Roger Helmer tweeted that Mrs May had “lost the next general election” if she did, and that she should “just say no” to the bill.

Mrs May will be grateful at least to have her MPs behind her as she negotiates Brexit, ready to lambast anyone who stands in her way. Conservatives have already been taking Sir Ivan Rogers to task after he suggested that it could take a decade to negotiate a new trade deal with Europe, as MPs suggested he was “completely out of his comfort zone”. This came amid the revelation that EU officials believe privately that a deal could be done in less than seven years. Stephan Mayer, home affairs spokesman for Angela Merkel, suggested this might be the case on the Today programme this morning, remarking that ten years “is a very long period of time”. But he refused to go into specifics, declaring: “Now is not the time to announce a clear number of years”.

The key question at the end of the Brexit process will be what type of relationship Mrs May pushes for with Europe. Philip Hammond has told reporters that he doesn’t support the World Trade Organisation model, whereby Britain would rely on its WTO membership for access to European markets. “I hope that we would be able to agree with our European partners tariff-free access but on a reciprocal basis,” he said in Seoul. But we won’t see what model emerges until Article 50 is invoked and negotiators get down to the detail.


Morning Briefing – The Telegraph

Good morning.

Theresa May has been away in Bahrain, during a trip in which she tested her sea legs by addressing the the crew of HMS Ocean, and revealed that she wants a “red, white and blue” Brexit that left Britain operating within a single European market. She won’t be making it back in time for PMQs today, so Leader of the Commons David Lidington will take her place and face Emily Thornberry across the despatch box.  But that doesn’t mean she can escape the latest Parliamentary wrangling over Brexit, prompted by Labour pushing a motion today that called on the Government to publish its plan before invoking Article 50.

Europhile Tories were also threatening to back the motion, which could have been awkward for the Government. So the Prime Minister has called their bluff by tabling an amendment which will ask MPs to back her plan to serve Article 50 by the end of March 2017.  Downing Street sources said that it was now time to “see if those who say they accept the result really do”. Brexiteers are pleased by how she has handled this. Steve Baker has called it “superb”, while Jacob Rees-Mogg praises her in today’s paper for not wasting political capital on a “sideshow”. “Everyone knows Theresa May is in charge and that she knows what she wants to do in the lead-up to Article 50,” he writes. “Her position is an authoritative one.”

The amended motion will attract widespread support given that Labour has said it would back it, and only a small number of Tory MPs are expected to either abstain or vote against the Government. If so, they will be joining the Liberal Democrats and SNP, who are expected to vote in defiance of the referendum result. “Those who refuse to back the amendment will be making a public declaration of contempt for the voters,” we warn in our leader. You can stay on top of today’s events with our liveblog here.

The amended motion is important symbolically, but it plays no official role in the Brexit process. It does not trigger Article 50. It is only a commitment to do so by the end of March next year. The Supreme Court is still weighing up whether Theresa May needs to win approval in Parliament before she can formally trigger it. If it does, Philip Johnston fears that the Brexit drama “will move into Parliament where anything can happen“.

Lord Pannick, the QC for Gina Miller, the businesswoman who brought the original case to the High Court, started to set out their case yesterday to the judges. He produced a transcript of last year’s Commons debate on the referendum bill and quoted the words of then Europe minister David Lidington, who said:“The legislation is about holding a vote. It makes no provision for what follows. The referendum is advisory.” Michael Deacon wonders whether “any MPs will remind him of this little matter” when he stands in for Mrs May today at PMQs.

Time is ticking in the meantime, as the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier indicated yesterday that he wants to see the terms of exit agreed by October 2018, so they have time to be ratified by national parliaments within Article 50’s 2 year deadline. He was very keen to stress that “it is much better to show solidarity than stand alone”, in an unsubtle message to EU member states tempted to follow Britain and go it alone. As Theresa May fights to take Britain out of the bloc, the rest of Europe will be looking on with interest.