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Why next week’s Salzburg meeting could be a false summit on Theresa May’s climb to Brexit


One operating joke of the Brexit talks has been that they’re like climbing a mountain. Negotiators have tried to publicly one-up one another with jaunty items of strolling poles and mountaineering guides, including a little bit of color to an in any other case dry saga.

It’s in that spirit that Theresa Might will journey to Salzburg within the Austrian Alps subsequent week to satisfy EU leaders looking for a breakthrough. In Westminster, the assembly has been a lot hyped. However she could depart on Thursday feeling like she has hit one other false summit.

The PM will arrive with the elemental ideas of her Chequers plan having already been put to the sword by the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier. The British authorities nonetheless insists the plan lives, blames Barnier’s “dogmatic legalism” for dismantling it, and hopes to have interaction immediately with nationwide leaders who it sees as a softer contact. 

The large hope for the UK is that after a frank dialogue, member states will soften their directions to Mr Barnier in order that he could make concessions. However the handy narrative of governments aghast at what their negotiator is doing doesn’t appear to accord with actuality. 

“Legally the Fee doesn’t want a brand new mandate,” one senior EU diplomat stated, talking forward of the summit. “The Fee wants a mandate for the withdrawal settlement and that is what they’ve.

“I don’t see a scenario the place Michel Barnier says, ‘I’m superb with the mandate’, and the heads of state give him one other one. If we must always give extra steerage – and that may be a huge if – it will solely be accomplished in concerted dialogue with the Fee.”

Different Brussels sources level out that there can’t even be any change to Barnier’s mandate at Salzburg, as a result of it’s an off-the-cuff summit and doesn’t have the authorized energy to make directions. Any change agreed informally must be handed subsequent month, on the October European Council. Britain could also be barking up the fallacious mountain.

I don’t see a scenario the place Michel Barnier says ‘I’m superb with the mandate’ and the heads of state give him one other one

Senior EU diplomat

If there’s one concrete factor the prime minister may get at Salzburg, it’s one more summit. Proposals have been floating round in Brussels backrooms for a devoted Brexit assembly to be held in Brussels in mid-November – a date more and more seen as a brand new deadline for a deal (RIP October).

This seems more and more seemingly, merely due to time constraints. Salzburg isn’t about Brexit: it’s presupposed to be about inside safety and border management and Britain’s departure is anticipated to get two hours over lunch. After Salzburg, the following time leaders meet would be the October European Council in Brussels. However a major chunk of that assembly will likely be taken up by Asian presidents and prime ministers who will likely be on the town to speak commerce and funding. As soon as once more, Brexit might take a again seat. After that, it’ll be December – which the EU has lengthy insisted is simply too late.

Whereas being informed to “come again in two months after we can suit you in” is likely to be embarrassing for Ms Might, it will additionally purchase her extra time – one thing that’s operating more and more brief after a paralysing summer time.

The prime minister ought to count on a warning from leaders in Salzburg concerning the want for an answer to the Irish border. However to sugar that capsule, they could but handle to summon up some heat phrases about Chequers – maybe on safety, or the very fact it recommends a free commerce settlement. There’s virtually zero likelihood they may endorse its single marketplace for items proposals, or its customs plan, nonetheless – the 2 main sticking factors. However with any declaration on the long run relationship now extensively anticipated to be a obscure fudge anyway, that may not matter.

“They’re on the lookout for one thing optimistic to say,” one official says. “Carrot and stick.”

Whereas the main focus in Westminster has very a lot been on Chequers, it’s Eire that must be solved to stop a no deal. Sources in Brussels have for months steered the Fee is engaged on a brand new model of its ‘backstop’ to stop a border. However what kind it would take – and whether or not it is going to be any extra palatable – stays to be seen. Work on that was delayed as a result of Britain was sluggish handy over information referring to present checks on items crossing the Irish Sea – on which the Fee desires to base its new proposal. It is probably not prepared in time for Salzburg, however it is going to be essential for a deal.

Regardless of its limitations, the British technique of attempting to go over the Fee’s head to member states continues. Some are extra receptive to UK proposals than others, however the place there are variations, they’re extra ones of emphasis than elementary ideas. 

EU leaders are effectively conscious that they don’t have anything to achieve from being divided in public by Britain. Fee president Jean-Claude Juncker used his annual state of the union speech on Wednesday to spell out the logic, which runs via not simply Brexit talks, however all of the EU’s dealings.

“Once we are united, we Europeans, as a union, have develop into a pressure to be reckoned with that you simply can’t do with out … Each time Europe speaks as one, we are able to impose our place on others,” he stated. 

Although the Fee president was speaking about his dealings with Donald Trump, he might simply as simply have been talking about Brexit.


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