Vital negotiations between the UK and the EU on a future trading relationship and transition period look set to be delayed again at a crunch summit of European leaders in December, according to a key ally of the German chancellor, who is meeting Theresa May in Downing Street on Wednesday.
Manfred Weber, the German leader of the largest party in the European parliament, told reporters in a press conference in Strasbourg that he would have a disappointing message to convey to the British prime minister, at a meeting she had requested in London.
“Theresa May has asked for talks. She knows the negotiations are in a decisive phase,” said Weber, who is the leader of the centre-right European People’s party (EPP). “In the coming weeks we we will see whether a constructive outcome is possible or whether the uncertainty will continue to grow. In December it doesn’t look like we will be entering into the second phase.”
“But the clock is ticking,” Weber added. “In spring 2019 Britain will leave. We need to warn the British government and call on them to put proposals on the table.”
May, in turn, is due to meet all the party leaders in a closed meeting in Brussels on the 24 November, having turned down an invitation to address a full plenary session of the European parliament, as previous British prime ministers have done.
The British government is increasingly desperate to move the talks on from the three opening issues – citizens’ rights, the Northern Irish border and the financial settlement – but has so far been unable to convince the EU member states that “sufficient progress” has been made to allow a crucial widening of discussions.
Last Friday, the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, set a two-week deadline for further commitments from Britain on its estimated €60bn divorce bill, to allow him to garner agreement between the 27 member states on a way forward in time for a European council summit on 14 and 15 December.
The issue of the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland has also emerged as a major stumbling block. The Irish government has insisted on a written guarantee that a hard border will not be erected in the future.
The EU and the Irish want Northern Ireland to in effect stay within the single market and the customs union, and have rejected the UK’s proposals on deploying technological fixes to reduce border checks.
On Monday European leaders visiting Downing Street told May she needed to respect Barnier’s deadline for those commitments or face a collapse in economic confidence.
The leaders ruled that insufficient progress had been made on the withdrawal issues at a summit in October but there had, at that stage, been confidence that movement would be made in time for the meeting in December.
Meanwhile, the European parliament’s Brexit coordinator, Guy Verhofstadt, has written to the Brexit secretary, David Davis, to highlight flaws in the British government’s intended approach to allowing EU nationals to stay in the UK after Brexit, including a cost of £360 for a family of four under the proposed application process.
Verhofstadt wrote: “The point is that under your proposals EU citizens will definitely notice a deterioration of their status as a result of Brexit. And the parliament’s aim all along has been that EU citizens, and UK citizens in the EU27, should notice no difference.”
The former Belgian prime minister added on Tuesday: “Last week we have seen again that there is no progress in the negotiations. It cannot continue like this. We only have one more year. Let’s move forward.”
This article was written by Daniel Boffey Brussels, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 14th November 2017 12.47 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010