May 'will reject' EU proposals on Brexit transition
Negotiating tactics used by the British PM are ridiculed by Merkel
British Prime Minister Theresa May will reject the EU's proposed deal on the Brexit transition period and go into battle next week over freedom of movement and so-called "rule taking".
Michel Barnier, the EU's chief Brexit negotiator, said Britain must accept "all decisions" of the EU during transition if it wanted a deal, but would not have a say over any new laws.
Brussels' official negotiating stance, published yesterday, also states that freedom of movement must continue until the end of the transition period, which the EU wants to be December 31, 2020.
Eurosceptics insist that would turn Britain into a "vassal state" of the EU during transition.
The British government's negotiators will be told to reject both ideas when talks begin on February 5.
It comes as Mrs May faces a Commons rebellion from up to 60 Eurosceptic Tory MPs over plans to pass a law allowing Britain to join a customs union after Brexit.
Jacob Rees-Mogg, leader of the European Research Group of Brexit-supporting Tory MPs, will tell Julian Smith, the chief whip, that the group will table amendments to the Taxation (Cross-border Trade) Bill if the customs union clause is not removed.
On a day when the battle over the rules of transition began in earnest, Mr Barnier set out an uncompromising EU position which was swiftly followed by a flurry of warnings against any UK attempts to water down the terms of a deal. He said: "[The UK] will continue to have all the economic benefits, therefore it must apply all the rules."
The British government wants the transition period - which will begin when Britain formally leaves the EU in March next year - to last for "around two years" but the EU favours a 21-month period, ending at the end of 2020.
"During this limited period of time the whole EU acquis [body of law] will continue to apply to the UK," added Mr Barnier, in a move that infuriated leading Tory Eurosceptics.
David Davis, the Brexit Secretary, told a Commons select committee yesterday there would be an "argument" when negotiations begin over whether the UK must be a complete "rule-taker" during the transition period.
"We take the view that it is not particularly good democratic practice to have your country accept without any say-so anything, and particularly if the EU takes it upon itself to do something which is actively disadvantageous to a major British industry," he said.
Even though Mr Davis conceded that the UK's post-Brexit relationship with the EU would be "very, very similar", Mrs May is under rising pressure to win some concessions from Europe.
Whitehall sources said she would not accept full freedom of movement during transition, insisting that the EU accepts a registration scheme for arriving EU citizens, who would then have no guarantees of being able to stay.
Mr Rees-Mogg will tell Mr Smith today the government must remove a clause from the proposed Bill on cross-border trade that would allow ministers to sign up to "a customs union" without a parliamentary vote.
Brexiteers fear that membership of any form of customs union post-Brexit would prevent Britain signing trade deals with other countries.
Meanwhile, Angela Merkel has mocked Theresa May's Brexit negotiating tactics, saying the two leaders end up going round in circles because Mrs May never says what she wants.
The German chancellor said that whenever she asks the British prime minister what she wants from the EU, she always replies: "Make me an offer."
Ms Merkel left journalists "laughing uproariously" after mocking Mrs May's attempts to negotiate a trading relationship post-Brexit. According to ITV's Robert Peston, Ms Merkel's constant refrain to Mrs May when she asks for an offer is to say: "But you're leaving - we don't have to make you an offer. Come on, what do you want?" Mrs May then repeats: "Make me an offer."