segunda-feira, 1 de maio de 2017

UK hits out at European Commission after Brexit meeting leak

UK hits out at European Commission after Brexit meeting leak

Report says Juncker ‘10 times more sceptical’ after last week’s Downing Street dinner

UK Prime Minister Theresa May and European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker before their meeting at Downing Street on April 26 © Reuters

Frederick Studemann
38 MINUTES AGO by: Jim Pickard in London and Claire Jones in Frankfurt

The British government has accused the European Commission of seeking to “punish” the UK over Brexit after the leaked account of a private dinner raised tensions between London and Brussels.

A report published in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung portrayed last Wednesday’s dinner between Theresa May, British prime minister, and Jean-Claude Juncker, European Commission president, as a disaster.

The leak highlighted the gulf between what the UK wants and what the EU considers realistic, but has also led politicians from across Britain’s political spectrum to emphasise that talks may fail to yield a deal.

“Juncker wants money but also wants to punish us — and deter any other member state from leaving,” a senior British government figure said. “He has been told we are willing to walk away without a deal, which is worrying him.”

The official described the leak as “very foolish” because it was essential to conduct the Brexit talks in a spirit of trust. “That principle has now been breached,” the official said.

According to the FAZ, commission officials were astonished at Mrs May’s ambitions for the talks, including rapid resolution of the status of expatriates, a confidential negotiating process and a trade deal within two years.

The FAZ article quotes Mr Juncker as saying that he left the dinner “10 times more sceptical than I was before”. The commission president told Angela Merkel, German chancellor, of his concerns in an early-morning phone call the next day.

Speaking during election campaigning, Mrs May dismissed the account as “just Brussels gossip”, noting that immediately after the dinner the commission had described the talks as “constructive”. But she added that the episode showed that the talks would be “tough”.

The comprehensive leaking of Wednesday’s discussion will also strengthen the hand of Eurosceptics in Mrs May’s own party who believe the Brexit negotiations cannot succeed.

“This is the reason why some people are saying it will be impossible to reach a deal, because it doesn’t matter which party is in the wrong galaxy, if they are in separate galaxies it is going to be very difficult,” said Bernard Jenkin, a leading Conservative Eurosceptic MP.

A spokesman for the UK Independence party said the account of the EU’s attempt to “bully” the UK showed the “mutual incomprehension” between the two sides. “We believe no deal is better than a bad deal, the offers on the table are bad deals and so better that we go for a quick, clean break and get on with our lives,” he said.

Pro-EU politicians also emphasised that Brexit might take place without an agreement.

“By refusing to acknowledge the complexity and magnitude of the task ahead the prime minister increases the risk that there will be no deal, which is the worst of all possible outcomes,” said Keir Starmer, the Brexit spokesman for the opposition Labour party.

Tim Farron, leader of the pro-EU Liberal Democrats, said the FAZ report made clear the government had “no plan and no clue” for leaving the bloc.

The leak has laid bare the obstacles facing Mrs May’s ambition to hold the negotiations in secret: Mr Juncker has a duty to keep 27 member states informed of progress and details are bound to leak.

While the UK prime minister used the dinner to push for an early deal to secure the rights of British workers across the continent, according to the FAZ, Mr Juncker said this would involve highly complex negotiations on topics such as health insurance.

British officials said such issues can be left to subsequent bilateral negotiations with EU member states.

Mr Juncker and Michel Barnier, the chief EU negotiator who was also present at the dinner, were astounded by the prime minister’s assertion that the UK did not have to pay “a penny” of a Brexit divorce bill, which the EU has estimated as up to €60bn, because there was nothing in the EU treaty to say that it had to. Mr Juncker responded that without a financial settlement there would be no UK-EU trade deal.

He also said, according to the FAZ: “Brexit cannot be a success.”

Mrs May’s comments over dinner in Downing Street should also be viewed as an opening shot in Brexit negotiations. Her view that a trade deal can be wrapped up by late 2018 may be seen in Berlin as “an illusion” but it is also an attempt to force the pace of talks.

Privately many of Mrs May’s ministers agree that the best Britain can hope for is a broad outline of a future trade agreement, with details to be filled in over a transition period lasting several years.

In a show of unity a weekend summit, the EU27 member states agreed a tough opening stance on the talks.

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