LONDON — The U.K. will embark on a flurry of diplomatic activity in the two months before December’s European Council meeting, in a bid to influence Michel Barnier’s negotiating mandate for phase two of the Brexit talks.
British negotiators are determined to avoid a repeat of the gridlock experienced during the first phase of negotiations, which failed to reach “sufficient progress” by October, with the result that phase two was delayed until December at the earliest, increasing the time pressure on the divorce talks, two senior figures familiar with plan said.
The British attribute the slow progress in part to the rigidity of Barnier’s team, which has adhered closely to the mandate set out for it by the leaders of the 27 other EU countries before the talks began in June.
Informed by that experience, they view the next few weeks, in while the EU conducts internal preparations for phase two talks on transition and future trade, as a unique and time-limited moment of “fluidity” in the EU’s negotiating position, a senior U.K. negotiator said.
“We start these negotiations on a completely different basis from any other third country” — Theresa May
“We need to influence their position, through conversations in both Brussels and in the 27 capitals,” a second individual familiar with the U.K.’s position said.
David Davis is visiting Paris Monday evening where he will have dinner with French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian. A series of further contacts between senior U.K. ministers and EU27 capitals is anticipated over the coming weeks.
Ministers and Conservative MPs have warmly welcomed European Council President Donald Tusk’s announcement last week that EU27 governments should “start internal preparatory discussions” on Brexit “in relation to the framework for the future relationship and on transition arrangements.”
Crispin Blunt, the former chair of the House of Commons foreign affairs committee, said it was a “happy accident” that the seven-week window before the December European Council would allow for “two months of private diplomacy around the future deep and comprehensive trade agreement.”
“We’ve actually ended up in a rather more constructive space for a successful deal,” he said, speaking in the House of Commons Monday in response to Prime Minister Theresa May’s European Council statement to MPs.
Ministers and MPs have been encouraged by early preparations within EU27 states for a post-Brexit trading relationship. The senior U.K. negotiator pointed to a draft German government paper which, according to Bloomberg, proposes a “comprehensive free-trade accord” between the EU and the U.K. The negotiator also highlighted the Swedish government’s call for the national board of trade — the Kommerskollegium — to draw up plans for Swedish interests in a future trading relationship.
U.K. Brexit Secretary David Davis | Stephanie Lecocq/EPA
May insisted Monday that the U.K. wants to finalize the terms of its future relationship with the EU before it leaves in March 2019. While the U.K. wants a post-Brexit transition, Davis has insisted it will not “carry on negotiating” during the transition.
May told MPs Monday that she was confident of achieving a trade agreement before the U.K. leaves because existing regulatory alignment with the EU would give any such deal a head-start.
“We start these negotiations on a completely different basis from any other third country,” May said. “We start on the basis that we are already trading with the other member states of the European Union on the basis of rules and regulations and when we leave we will have taken those EU regulations, EU law — the EU acquis — into U.K. law.”