Theresa May heads to Brussels this morning for the European Councilmeeting where national leaders of the 27 other EU member states have their first opportunity to make a decision as to whether to approve moving the Brexit negotiations onto trade talks.
The summit opens with two open letters dominating this morning’s news. The first is the one written by the Prime Minister to EU citizens living in the UK. She tells those 3 million EU citizens that the Government and EU are in “touching distance” of reaching an agreement on citizens’ rights and goes on to promise that the process for them registering to stay in the UK will be streamlined. She writes:
“I want to give reassurance that this issue remains a priority, that we are united on the key principles, and that the focus over the weeks to come will be delivering an agreement that works for people here in the UK, and people in the EU… I couldn’t be clearer: EU citizens living lawfully in the UK today will be able to stay… I know both sides will consider each other’s proposals for finalising the agreement with an open mind. And with flexibility and creativity on both sides, I am confident that we can conclude discussions on citizens’ rights in the coming weeks… I know there is real anxiety about how the agreement will be implemented. People are concerned that the process will be complicated and bureaucratic, and will put up hurdles that are difficult to overcome. I want to provide reassurance here too. We are developing a streamlined digital process for those applying for settled status in the UK in the future.”
Meanwhile, today’s other open letter, co-ordinated by Leave Means Leave, has been written to Theresa May by former Chancellor Lord Lawson, other former Conservative Cabinet Ministers, Leave-supporting Labour MPs, leading businesspeople and economists with a simple message: if the EU continues to refuse to discuss the UK’s future trade relationship at today’s summit, she should walk away from the negotiations and formally declare that she assumes the UK will trade with the EU under World Trade Organisation rules as of 30th March 2019. They write:
“If, early next year, the EU then decides to come back to discuss free trade, this will be a bonus – but it is not and should not be treated as essential. We would be better concentrating our resources on resolving administrative issuesand preparing to crystallise the economic opportunities presented by Brexit from March 2019. We would also have more time to work on minimising disruptions. No deal on trade is better than a deal which locks the UK into the European regulatory system and takes opportunities off the table.”
You can read their open letter in full here, while on the BrexitCentral website today, John Longworth – Co-Chair of Leave Means Leave and one of the signatories to the letter – explains for us the advantages of making such a clean break. Click here to read his piece.
On a similar theme, Ken Worthy also writes for us today after coming to the view that the EU negotiators are becoming “more and more insulting” as they reject the Government’s discussion papers as “unsatisfactory” and seem to insist that Britain must be worse off after Brexit. He asserts that we must stop trying to appease the EU and prepare for no deal. Click here to read his piece.
The leaders will begin arriving for today’s summit at lunchtime, with proceedings formally getting underway at around 2pm UK time. It is at tonight’s working dinner that Theresa May will address her counterparts on Brexit matters, although it is not until tomorrow morning’s session that the leaders of the EU27 are expected officially to make their assessment of the state of play after being briefed by the EU chief negotiator, Michel Barnier. Short of a dramatic development in the coming hours, the EU27 are expected to agree with the assessment that insufficient progress has been made to allow Barnier and his team to start talking to the UK about the future trading relationship.
Incidentally, the Prime Minister may need to be careful that she doesn’t bump into Jeremy Corbyn while she is in Brussels. The Labour leader and Shadow Brexit Secretary, Sir Keir Starmer, and Shadow International Trade Secretary, Barry Gardiner, are attending a Party of European Socialists meeting as well as having bilateral meetings with the Italian, Swedish and Portuguese Prime Ministers, Michel Barnier and the President of the European Parliament, Antonio Tajani. Labour say Corbyn wants to “increase the pressure for real progress in the current talks and move on to negotiations about our future trading relationship” – despite 18 Labour MEPs having voted against doing just that in Strasbourg two weeks ago.
Meanwhile, in other news, BrexitCentral revealed yesterday that International Trade Secretary, Liam Fox, has established a new group bringing together representatives of the country’s five biggest organisations representing British business. It aims to ensure that voices from business in every sector of the economy are heard by his department as they develop post-Brexit trade and export policy. Click here to read more.
There was also a little nugget from the appearance by Leader of the House, Andrea Leadsom, before the House of Commons Procedure Committee yesterday: in advance of the torrent of Brexit-related Statutory Instruments, a minister in every government department has now been designated as responsible for secondary legislation. Read more here or watch a clip.
The Prime Minister should walk away from the negotiating table and prepare for trading under WTO rules from March 2019 if the EU continues to refuse to discuss the UK’s future trade relationship at today’s European Council.