Theresa May’s attempt to bypass Brussels in Brexit talks fails as member states line up to back official EU position

Czech Republic latest to echo European Commission's negotiating line

Jon Stone
Brussels
Friday 27 July 2018 14:51
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Brexit: Michel Barnier rules out Theresa May's Chequers customs plan

British attempts to bypass the European Commission in Brexit talks by dealing directly with member states are failing, as national governments line up to back the official EU position.

The Czech Republic, a traditional British ally, was the latest to endorse the Brussels line on Friday, just hours after chief negotiator Michel Barnier ruled out the EU agreeing to the Chequers customs plan.

Brexiteers in government have become transfixed with the idea that the European Commission is the roadblock to progress in Brexit talks and that member states would agree to make concessions to Britain – if only they were allowed.

Despite a lack of evidence for this analysis, the government has tried in vain to make direct overtures to other EU states, with limited success.

Theresa May is set to meet Czech PM Andrej Babis on Friday, but ahead of the visit Mr Babis echoed the commission’s concerns with the UK’s Chequers proposal almost word for word.

“There is a clear problem with the fact that the EU will not have a mechanism to control its borders and it would be delegated – without any EU control – to a third country, which would be Britain after March,” he told the BBC before the meeting.

Mr Babis also suggested the UK proposals on single market regulations lacked “a certain balance between the rights and obligations”.

There is a clear problem with the fact that the EU will not have a mechanism to control its borders

Andrej Babis, Czech prime minister

The Czech Republic is only the latest member state to disagree. Sources familiar with the French position told the UK that officials in Paris were “puzzled” at why the EU would be expected to accept a British customs plan that was so complex, risky and burdensome for it and its businesses, to no benefit.

Nathalie Loiseau, France’s European affairs minister, said: “There should be no mistake. Michel Barnier does not represent only the Commission. He is the negotiator for the European Union.

“He gets his mandate and his guidelines from the heads of state and government. And we have discussed it regularly at the level of ministers. We meet with Michel Barnier on a regular basis.

“So do the heads of state and government. So there is no difference between what Michel Barnier says and what we would say individually, each and every member state.”

Theresa May says she's had 'constructive responses' so far from the EU on the UK's brexit proposals

A recent move by the British government to translate its Brexit policy paper into other EU languages to encourage member states to engage with it directly backfired earlier this month after some of the translations were branded “unreadable”. Officials said their questions regarding the paper were not to do with language but rather content, and that they were comfortable with the English version.

Most national leaders’ responses to the Brexit trade plan have differed only in tone rather than content. Hungary’s right-wing populist government is the only member state to seriously break ranks so far, warning that a no deal would be a disaster for Europe.

At regular Brussels European Council summits Theresa May has been prevented from directly discussing Brexit with all her counterparts. The PM has been allowed only to briefly address them over dinner, with no responses or debate.

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