Suivre le Brexit avec le Guardian

Brexit weekly briefing: Short shrift for UK hope to have a central role

Jessica Elgot
Welcome to the Guardian’s weekly Brexit briefing, a summary of developments as Britain moves – not without incident – towards the EU exit.

The big picture

There were two big events on the Brexit horizon this week, and both – as often happens with EU-related stories – took place in Belgium.
One, inevitably, was in Brussels, where Theresa May took part in her first EU summit since becoming prime minister, a slightly testy affair not helped by May saying the UK hoped to remain at the centre of EU decision-making until it left. This brought a frosty response from some other countries, with Manfred Weber, leader of the Christian Democrats in the European parliament, saying:

When somebody wants to leave a club, it is not normal that such a member wants to decide about the future of this club.
Perhaps as a slightly mischievous response to this anger, a report emerged later in the summit of a supposed proposal by Michel Barnier, the French ex-foreign minister running the talks for the European commission, to stage all negotiations in French. This would not happen, Downing Street swiftly responded.
Later in the week saw Wallonia receive more coverage in the UK press than at any time since Lord Castlereagh was in the Foreign Office, in 1812.
It came after the parliament of the French-speaking part of Belgium blocked a planned EU-Canada trade deal, seven years in the making, prompting Canada’s trade minister to walk out of talks.
This has, as you might expect, prompted some speculation as to whether the Walloons – or any other among the 27 parliaments who will all have a veto – could similarly scupper a post-Brexit UK deal.
May has rejected this, telling the Commons on Monday – to some hoots of scepticism from the opposition:
To those who suggest that these difficulties have a bearing on our own future negotiations, I would remind them that we are not seeking to replicate the existing model that any other country has in relation to its trade with the European Union. We will be developing our own British model.

View from Europe

The general view from elsewhere within Europe was nicely summed up by two quotes from anonymous senior EU officials, talking to Reuters before the Brussels summit.
One said: “There’s a surprising degree of consensus. No one wants to give the Brits an opening.” The other was more blunt still: “How this is going to end, no one knows. For now, the train is heading towards a wall.”
And things did not get much more amicable once the EU leaders sat down to a long dinner – after which, at around 1am, May finally got her chance to speak.
François Hollande, the French president, warned May about her seeming intent on a “hard Brexit” in which immigration controls were prioritised at the expense of access to the single market.
“I have said it very firmly to her. If Theresa May wants a hard Brexit, the negotiations will be hard,” he said.
Martin Schulz, president of the European parliament, cautioned against any British hopes of some sort of bespoke deal: “I refuse to imagine a Europe where lorries and hedge funds are free to cross borders but citizens are not.”

Meanwhile, back in Westminster

Or more specifically, in Downing Street, where May hosted a distinctly frosty meeting with the leaders of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, to give them a chance to air their views on Brexit.
This was the joint ministerial committee, a long-neglected forum for the devolved administrations, now hastily revived by Downing Street, complete with the slightly ambiguous promise that the leaders will have “a direct line” to the Brexit secretary, David Davis.
The two-hour meeting saw Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, emerge to declare it a “frank exchange of views”, diplomatic speak for discussions that ended just short of blood being spilled.
Sturgeon was withering about May’s lack of an apparently coherent plan for Brexit. “I don’t know any more now about the UK government’s approach to the EU negotiations than I did before I went in to the meeting,” she said.
Asked if she was undermining the UK’s negotiating position with the EU, Sturgeon replied: “I can’t undermine something that doesn’t exist.” Ouch.
There was more scorn for May after she delivered a Commons statement about the Brussels summit, which spoke hopefully of creating “a powerful new relationship that works both for the UK and for the countries of the EU”.
The Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, accused May of “threats, hectoring [and] lecturing” the EU, adding: “The rest of the world looks on and concludes: Britain hasn’t got a clue. The truth is, this isn’t a soft Brexit or even a hard Brexit. It is simply a chaotic Brexit.”

You should also know that:

Read this:

Stephen Bush on the three big mistakes the government has already made on Brexit talks (New Stateman)
Le Monde publishes a lengthy interview with the socialist prime minister of Wallonia, Paul Magnette (it’s in French, but worth reading even if you don’t “parle français” via the magic of Google Translate)
Adam Boulton on why May should cherish, not chastise Philip Hammond (The Times)
The WSJ on whether Europe has “too much” democracy

Source: theguardian.com

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