Theresa May arrived in Brussels for the latest EU Summit and was presented with a Belgium football shirt; a nod to Thursday’s World Cup game between the two countries.
It was a rare light moment in a negotiation process that is becoming increasingly fraught, with battle lines drawn between opposing parties who are pretty far apart in terms of what they want to achieve from the Brexit divorce talks.
Indeed, negotiations had ground almost to a halt the last time the two sides met, and the Prime Minister has this week spoken of her desire for proceedings to speed up somewhat. The deadline for the Brexit deal to be signed, sealed and delivered is approaching fast.
“I think both sides are keen to continue that work at a faster pace than we have done up till now and certainly we would welcome that,” she told assembled reporters.
As far as the timeline is concerned, this will be the last summit meeting before the various politicians head off for their summer break, and serious progress will need to be made. In October, the next time the parties come together, the Brexit deal will have to be nearing completion.
So, this week May will set out the UK’s wishes for the divorce from the EU to 27 other European Union leaders, and she will be hoping for some significant softening of her ‘opposition’.
Mind you, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has stated that he is ‘worried’ by a lack of movement, and that his side were preparing for a ‘no deal’ motion. “We are preparing for different scenarios – on the proper withdrawal agreement but, in parallel, we are working on the no deal.”
So pressure is mounting, both in Europe and back at home. The cabinet is meeting at the Chequers next week (July 6), and here the PM will set out for her blueprint for an independent Britain. A White Paper will be published to reflect ‘in more detail what strong partnership the United Kingdom wants to see with the European Union in the future.’
The contentious issues remain, with the cabinet divided on any custom agreement with the EU after the transition period is complete. The elephant in the room – the border agreement in Ireland – remains a huge problem too. Will there be free movement of people and goods post-Brexit?
Blair’s Witch Hunt Project
As has been his modus operandi for the past couple of years, Tony Blair has been sticking his nose in and voicing his opinion.
The Remainer has claimed that the Brexit deadline of March 2019 should be extended, so that the Prime Minister and her allies can secure the best possible deal with the EU.
Blair has claimed that May is ‘more hostage than leader’ in the discussions, and that ‘we should now plan for the possibility we need to extend the March 2019 deadline.
“Presently we are drifting, with no clear negotiating position, no resolution of the Northern Ireland question, still vaguely hoping Europe will allow us access to the single market without abiding by its rules, which it will never do,” he told a think tank in London this week.
“The sensible thing – maybe this is too rational a view for today’s world – is for Europe to realise that the Brexit vote represented a feeling that is not specifically or exclusively British.
“That’s what all these elections have shown over the last few months. This is a European-wide feeling, it’s just that Britain had the referendum.”
The Brexit date can be altered despite being written into law via the EU Withdrawal Bill. It would require the approval of the UK government and all 27 EU member states, but there is the legal opportunity for Article 50 to be extended indefinitely.
Whether May and her fellow negotiators take up the chance is another matter….
EU Migrants Vote with their Feet
According to the first set of figures released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) since the Brexit vote, the UK’s population is growing at its slowest rate in thirteen years.
Recorded in June 2017, the ONS found that the UK’s population had risen beyond 66 million inhabitants – the first time in history for that number to be recorded – but in actual fact the annual growth of 0.6% was the slowest since 2004.
A decrease in net migration was given as the main reason. “The reduction in the number of immigrants is the largest single driver of the lower level of population growth in the year to mid-2017,” read the ONS statement.