A leaked diplomatic note from a meeting between Commission officials and ambassadors from the EU’s 27 countries reveals how Brussels views the “level playing field” rules signed up to by the prime minister.
“We should be in the best negotiation position for the future relationship. This requires the customs union as the basis of the future relationship,” deputy chief negotiator Sabine Weyand said, according to the note seen by The Times newspaper.
“They must align their rules but the EU will retain all the controls. They apply the same rules. UK wants a lot more from future relationship, so EU retains its leverage.”
The binding clauses would mean the UK would be tied to EU rules on workers’ rights, environmental protections, and state aid while the so-called backstop applies – which everyone in Brussels believes it will for quite some time.
The provisions are enraging some Tory Brexiteers, who see Britain’s departure from the EU as an opportunity to strip out what they see as excessive regulations and rights for workers.
“She hasn’t so much struck a deal as surrendered to Brussels and given in to everything they want and tried to frustrate Brexit that it’s not so much a vassal state anymore as a slave state,” unofficial rebellion leader Jacob Rees-Mogg said, articulating the views of many of Ms May’s MPs.
Remainers also rounded on the leak. Dominic Grieve QC, a Tory MP and the former attorney general, said: “Speaking in private Sabine Weyand has been brutally honest about what the Prime Minister’s deal will really mean.”
He added: “I could not look my constituents in the eye and say this would be a better deal than the one we have as a member of the EU and so I will vote against it and instead I will vote to hand the final decision back to the public. A choice between this miserable Brexit and no deal is no choice at all. The British public deserve a real choice between leaving the EU on these terms or sticking with the deal we’ve got inside the EU.”
But speaking on Wednesday morning Theresa May loyalist William Hague urged Tories to ignore the “leak overnight from somebody you have never heard of before” and to back the plan, arguing that Brexit could be thwarted if it was ditched.
The leaked written account of the meeting seen by the newspaper also suggests that Britain “would have to swallow a link between access to products and fisheries in future agreements” for the future relationship. The claim is political dynamite because some Brexiteers want the UK to be able to exclude EU fishing boats from British waters after the country leaves.
Cabinet ministers are being strong-armed to support the deal, with some deemed “key” to its approval call in for one-on-one meetings with the Prime Minister ahead of a moment-of-truth meeting on Wednesday.
The final text of the draft withdrawal agreement has not been made public, meaning ministers must either decode the vast legal agreement themselves or rely on Downing Street’s interpretation of it.
EU ambassadors will meet simultaneously in Brussels this afternoon to examine the agreement, and be briefed by EU officials – though the full sign-off process from member states is expected to take longer.
“It’s going to be a thorough information on the state of play,” a spokesperson for the European Commission said.
Even if the Prime Minister can secure the support of her own cabinet it looks increasingly unlikely that she will be able to get the plan through the House of Commons, with opposition from Labour, Tory eurosceptics, and the DUP now looking more certain than ever.
A European Commission spokesperson told reporters in Brussels: “The European Union and United Kingdom negotiators have been working intensively over the past few days to agree on the elements of a withdrawal agreement and an outline on the political declaration of the framework of the future relationship.
“Our chief negotiator Michel Barnier briefed the college of commissioners yesterday in Strasbourg. You will appreciate that there is an on-going process in London and Brussels right now as we speak. The British cabinet will meet at 3pm today Brussels time and the European Commission will also debrief the EU27 member states this afternoon.
“We will not comment on the various press reports over the past 24 hours. We will inform you if there are any updates today or over the coming days. If something happens you will be the first ones to know, so stay tuned.
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