Brexit talks resume after Theresa May’s ‘constructive’ shift

Brexit talks resume after Theresa May’s ‘constructive’ shift

Barnier and Davis teams face task of fleshing out measures from Florence speech

YESTERDAY by George Parker and Jim Pickard in London and Alex Barker in Brussels British negotiators will on Monday travel to Brussels aiming to translate Theresa May’s “constructive” speech in Florence last week, including the offer of €20bn towards the EU budget, into a breakthrough in Brexit talks.

Mrs May’s emollient address effectively put Brexit on pause until 2021, leaving the pro- Brexit foreign secretary Boris Johnson controversially claiming he had prevented an even longer transition period.

Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, hailed Mrs May’s “constructive spirit” but his team will spend the week in talks with UK Brexit secretary David Davis to flesh out details of the Florence speech.
Downing Street hopes that Mrs May’s intervention will unblock the talks and allow Mr Barnier to conclude by the EU summit in October that “sufficient progress” has been made to move on to negotiations on a UK-EU trade deal.

However EU officials still view a breakthrough in October as unlikely and are looking for more details on Mrs May’s financial offer, which so far only covers €20bn of British commitments to the EU budget in 2019 and 2020. Brussels is eyeing a final settlement that also includes issues like pensions and other post- 2021 liabilities. Its initial estimate was that Britain could owe €60bn net; Mr Davis said estimates of a final £40bn bill were “made up”.

Mr Barnier also wants further clarification on the additional legal protections Mrs May is offering to EU citizens in Britain and more progress on north-south issues in Ireland. The fourth round of talks is scheduled to wrap up on Thursday.

Mrs May’s speech, which accepted the need for a transition period of “around two years” on Brussels’ terms, was criticised by some pro-Brexit Tory MPs and Eurosceptic newspapers and was seen as a setback for Mr Johnson.

Yet Britain’s Sunday newspapers ran reports citing Mr Johnson’s supporters as saying that the foreign secretary fought off attempts by chancellor Philip Hammond and the UK’s
business department to secure a transition of up to five years.

The claim was described as “complete rubbish” by allies of business secretary Greg Clark and Mr Hammond’s supporters said they were “fed up” with Mr Johnson talking “bullshit”.

Mr Hammond and business leaders have argued for a transition lasting up to three years, but pro-EU cabinet ministers acknowledge that it needs to end before 2022, the latest date for the next general election. Mr Davis also rejected suggestions that the foreign secretary forced the prime minister to alter her Brexit policy in the run-up to last Friday’s Florence speech. “I don’t think there has been any change of policy in the last two weeks,” Mr Davis told the BBC’s Andrew Marr show.
Mr Johnson now wants to limit the transition at two years and insists that Britain should not have to implement EU rules passed during the transition period, when Britain would no longer have a vote.

Government insiders say that while this was a matter for negotiation, in practice it normally took more than two years for new EU legislation to pass into national law.
The row came amid revelations about plotting and back-stabbing by senior cabinet ministers in the wake of the failed general election campaign in “Fall Out: A Year of Political Mayhem”, a new book by Tim Shipman, the Sunday Times political editor.

In a surprise twist, he claimed that Mr Hammond had texted Mr Johnson on the night of the election setback, hinting that he could support him if the foreign secretary ran for the leadership.

Mr Shipman also revealed that Amber Rudd, the home secretary, had the support of figures including David Cameron, George Osborne and Sir John Major in the event that Mrs May resigned.

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