Theresa May’s room for manoeuvre is limited
Theresa May will deliver movement on three key conditions so that her EU peers can launch a new phase of Brexit negotiations when they meet on December 14-15.
An EU diplomat said: “I feel the tectonic plates moving now. Time is running out and a failure in the December Council would serve nobody’s purpose.”
Mr Barnier had been expected to hold a formal round of talks with British Brexit Secretary David Davis in the week starting December 4.
But EU officials say planning is still up in the air and one official said there could be a high-level meeting as soon as next week, possibly on Friday.
European Union officials and diplomats from the other 27 member states involved in negotiations hope a deal can be met within a week to 10 days of meeting European Council President Donald Tusk.
Hopes have been raised by media reports that May has secured backing from pro-Brexit hardliners in her cabinet to increase the amount of a financial settlement when the UK leaves in March 2019.
A senior official said: “I don’t know what room for manoeuvre May has, but what we can see is a willingness to act.”
It is the financial settlement that has been the most concern for the past few months.
Officials believe it could be resolved by a combination of May stating clearly that Britain will pay a share after leaving of two major EU budget lines, staff pensions and agreed but un-disbursed spending.
Reports suggest the PM might offer to pay something like £40billion which has encouraged EU negotiators.
It is short of the €60billion which the European Commission has demanded.
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But, they say they are willing to help May limit the political flak she takes at home.
An EU official said: “On presentational issues, Barnier is ready to help, not to call things by their real name.”
Another spoke of efforts to arrange the “choreography” of a deal over the next three weeks, including a possible EU-UK “joint report” on interim accords to unlock talks on trade.
May’s room for manoeuvre to cut a deal that would please business while irritating Britons who want a sharper break with Brussels is limited.
Germany and France, the Union’s lead powers, have taken a tough line so far.
But, German Chancellor Angela Merkel is currently preoccupied with domestic affairs as she is currently deadlocked over coalitions talks following a lacklustre election.
Also, French President Emmanuel Macron’s approval rating has been poor, according to the latest poll showing most French people are dissatisfied with Emmanuel Macron’s performance.
The poll, conducted by Ifop for the conservative weekly Le Journal du Dimanche, showed more than half of French people – 54 per cent – are “unsatisfied” with Mr Macron’s handling of the country’s social and economic issues.
Mrs May will receive little focus from her European counterparts to help her secure a smooth deal.
Angela Merkel is distracted from Brexit by coalition talks in Germany
Several diplomats said it makes is possible for talks to remain deadlocked.
An EU official said: “That would create some kind of crisis in negotiations.”
The official added that time was already short to complete a treaty by late next year to ensure an orderly Brexit. He said: “But maybe that is necessary.”
The sides already believe they are quite close to agreeing on the scope of rights for expatriate citizens in Britain and on the continent.
Michel Barnier met EU President Donald Tusk on Wednesday to prepare Tusk’s Friday meeting with May
But, the EU will be looking to pin Britain down on accepting its demands that any agreement is subject to enforcement through the Union’s legal system.
The third key criterion for moving to Phase Two, an outline agreement on how to avoid the new EU-UK land border disrupting the peace in Northern Ireland, remains a potential stumbling block.
Differences of opinion between London and Dublin have been marked this month, worrying EU officials.