Theresa May is to appeal to the French president, Emmanuel Macron, to widen the Brexit negotiations to discuss a transition period, in the latest move amid a high-stakes flurry of diplomatic activity.
May is due to phone the Élysée Palace on Monday afternoon, it is understood, as the prime minister seeks to convince European leaders that talks on a transition phase should be approved at a European council summit on Friday.
Downing Street’s efforts are unlikely to be rewarded, however, unless May is willing to offer concrete guidance on how many of the UK’s financial commitments to the EU budget she is prepared to honour.
The EU leaders have already concluded that insufficient progress has been made in the first phase of talks to open negotiations on the future trading relationship.
May had already sought to convince the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, of the need for talks on a transition phase, without any success, it is understood.
She is due to dine with the European commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, and the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, in Brussels on Monday night.
However, a senior EU source dismissed the prime minister’s hopes, claiming that European leaders had overruled Barnier when he suggested opening talks on a transition phase, and they were in no mood to offer May any succour.
The source said European capitals were insistent that phase one of the negotiations, taking in citizens rights, the financial settlement and the Irish border, needed to be settled first.
“What the British have in mind is some sort of stage one and a half. Not sufficient progress but you can start talks on negotiations on the transition,” the source said. “That is not going to happen because I think in the capitals they are very much in touch with this idea that we have a staged approached. We were very specific when it came to the guidelines what we meant by the first phase.”
The source said May was doing her best to get the best possible outcome from the EU27 meeting on Friday. The best the UK could hope for, however, was for the group to offer to scope out among themselves how a transition period would work, in the hope that Britain would have delivered concrete proposals on the financial settlement by the next European council summit in December.
“That would be very good reward,” an EU official said.