Thursday 19 September 2019

John Downing: 'London still key battleground - unless someone in EU has issue'

 

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May returns after making a statement concerning Brexit negotiations outside 10 Downing Street, in London. Photo: REUTERS/Toby Melville
Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May returns after making a statement concerning Brexit negotiations outside 10 Downing Street, in London. Photo: REUTERS/Toby Melville
John Downing

John Downing

For a time yesterday, the 27 EU ambassadors meeting in Brussels over Brexit were "held hostage" by the UK cabinet ministers meeting on the other side of the water in London.

Professional men and women that they are, their meeting, which also kicked off at 2pm, was over much more quickly than the "impassioned" five-hour debate in Downing Street. Ever-anxious EU officials were keen that the ambassadors stay put lest anything leak and upset the delicately poised London deliberations.

But the ambassadors did get their freedom and will be back meeting again tomorrow as preparations ramp up for deliberations which move to Brussels for the foreseeable future. Agendas will now be prepared for a special meeting of EU foreign ministers next Monday, which in turn will prepare for a special EU leaders' Brexit summit on Sunday week, November 25.

The reaction so far from the other EU capitals has been muted and somewhat mannerly. But it has overall been positive.

In Berlin, the German government formally welcomed "progress on an orderly Brexit". Officials noted that an orderly outcome was in everyone's interests.

In Paris, a spokesman for French President Emmanuel Macron described news of a draft deal as "encouraging". He said the president would read the 500 pages of text carefully.

In Vienna, the youthful Austrian Chancellor, Sebastian Kurz, was more upbeat. "The result is a good one," he told reporters.

Mr Kurz, who currently holds the rotating presidency of the EU Council, said preparations for EU governments' consideration would now be put in place along the lines outlined above.

Compared with the struggle that is coming in London, this is considered to be the easier end of things. But approval by the other member states cannot be taken for granted.

For one thing, you cannot rule out one country or another raising their own unrelated concerns to seek concessions. There is plenty of precedent for that in the recent past.

Ireland, we learned from officials close to the ambassadors' meeting in Brussels, has already signalled that it is happy with the text.

But the other countries besides Ireland which have close and intense trading relationships with the UK, will read very closely the "level playing field" sections of this draft deal. These include France, Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium, and they were keenest on reassurances about tight state aid rules, provisions on workers' rights, and environmental rules to ensure the UK does not abuse its continued EU market access.

All that being said, the main action in this marathon will continue to be in London.

Mrs May will now begin the marathon battle for hearts and minds as rebels in her party continue to plot. This Brexit saga will not be over by Christmas.

Irish Independent

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