Brexit: EU leaders set to warn Theresa May over talks and step up preparations for ‘no deal', leaked documents reveal

Leaked draft of European Council conclusions seen by The Independent expresses frustration

Jon Stone
Brussels
Tuesday 19 June 2018 23:47
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What is still needed to complete a deal with the EU?

EU leaders will sound the alarm on the lack of progress in Brexit talks and pledge to step-up contingency plans for the UK crashing out with ‘no deal’, according to documents leaked to The Independent.

The 27 remaining EU presidents and prime ministers will meet in private without Theresa May at next week’s European Council summit in Brussels to discuss progress in negotiations.

But a draft of the Council’s conclusions show national leaders are planning to express their “concern that no substantial progress has yet been achieved on agreeing a backstop solution for Ireland/Northern Ireland”.

The motion also urges “member states and all stakeholders to step up their work on preparedness at all levels for all outcomes” – a diplomatic reference to the possibility of a ‘no deal’ scenario.

The European countries are also expected to repeat a familiar refrain: that they want “further clarity from the UK as regards its position on the future relationship” – where talks have barely begun despite a looming deadline.

The draft, drawn up by diplomats on Tuesday, could be amended before the summit happens – but is highly likely to resemble the final statement put out by the leaders. Most agreements at summits are struck beforehand by backroom officials, and previous pre-cooked Brexit conclusions have been approved within minutes by leaders.

It marks an escalation in the language by the national leaders and a warning shot across the PM's bow after months of deadlock.

The European Council expresses its concern that no substantial progress has yet been achieved on agreeing a backstop solution for Ireland/Northern Ireland.

Leaked draft European Council motion

Ms May is also attending the Brussels summit – which is on the same day as the England vs Belgium World Cup match – but will be excluded from the section on Brexit. EU member states have since the start of the process said they do not want to negotiate with the PM directly, instead delegating the task to Commission chief negotiator Michel Barnier.

The news comes ahead of a House of Commons showdown for the Prime Minister on Wedneday, where she could be defeated on whether the Government must offer a truly meaningful vote to MPs on the state of talks at the end of the year – potentially opening the to her agreement with the EU being rejected.

Mr Barnier warned on Tuesday in a speech in Vienna that the British government needed a dose of “realism” about what could be achieved in a deal between the EU and UK and that certain things would “no longer be possible” outside the bloc. He confirmed that Britain would not get direct access to EU-only criminal and security databases, the European Arrest Warrant, or be able to manage Europol or Eurojust after it left.

Addressing “some in the UK”, he said: “They try to blame us for the consequences of their choice. Once again, we will not be drawn into this blame game. It will mean wasting time, and we don’t have time.”

Talks have in part been deadlocked because the Prime Minister has limited room for manoeuvre in Westminster, with no majority for her party and hemmed in by Northern Irish unionists and Tory Eurosceptics on whom she relies to pass votes in the House of Commons.

The UK earlier this month published a plan for a backstop solution to prevent a hard border in Northern Ireland, but EU officials immediately picked holes in the plan and said it raised more questions than it answered.

A separate British government policy paper which will attempt to propose a long-term customs arrangement between the EU and UK as a whole has reportedly been delayed until July, after the June 28 and 29 summit. Next week's meeting is the last before the October Council meeting, which the EU says a deal must be agreed by in order to give time for ratification and approval.

The draft European Council conclusions seen by The Independent say: “1) In light of the state of play presented by the Union negotiator, the European Council welcomes the further progress made on parts of the legal text of the Withdrawal Agreement.

What is still needed to complete a deal with the EU?

“2) The European Council expresses its concern that no substantial progress has yet been achieved on agreeing a backstop solution for Ireland/Northern Ireland. It recalls the commitments undertaken by the UK in this respect in December 2017 and March 2018, and insists on the need for intensified efforts so that the Withdrawal Agreement, including its provisions on transition, can be concluded as soon as possible in order to come into effect on the date of withdrawal. It recalls that negotiations can only progress as long as all commitments undertaken so far are respected in full.

“3) Work must also be accelerated with a view to preparing a political declaration on the framework for the future relationship. This requires further clarity from the UK as regards its position on the future relationship. The European Council reconfirms its position set out in the guidelines March 2018.

“4) The European Council renews its call upon Member States and all stakeholders to step up their work on preparedness at all levels for all outcomes.”

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