Theresa May to travel to Brussels today for talks

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Theresa May to travel to Brussels today for talks
Theresa May to travel to Brussels today for talks


Theresa May sat down for a crucial dinner with top Eurocrats tonight as she stepped up a major diplomatic push ahead of an EU summit on Friday.

The Prime Minister is going head to head with Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and EU negotiator Michel Barnier. 

The talks – which were kept a secret until late last night – come after Mrs May made a round of crucial phone calls to the leaders of France, Germany and Italy. 

Tonight’s dinner is supposed to be private but Mr Juncker has already joked the ‘post mortem’ will emerge tomorrow.  

Britain is making a huge effort to break a deadlock in the Brexit negotiations before a two-day summit of EU leaders convenes in Brussels on Thursday. 

The group will exclude Britain on Friday’s session to decide whether ‘sufficient progress’ has been made in divorce talks to trigger negotiations on trade. 

Mrs May will hope her whirlwind effort will at least produce a commitment for the EU side to draw up its own position in writing ahead of talks starting later.

But she will make no new concessions at tonight’s dinner, No 10 said today despite Mr Barnier warning last week he was ‘disturbed’ by the ‘deadlocked’ talks.  

Theresa May appears to have been shopping ahead of her trip to Brussels today, having been photographed returning to No10 carrying a Jo Malone bag 

Theresa May appears to have been shopping ahead of her trip to Brussels today, having been photographed returning to No10 carrying a Jo Malone bag 

Mrs May was carrying her ministerial red box and a gift bag from the luxury perfume and cologne brand

She later left the building bound for Brussels

Mrs May was carrying her ministerial red box and a gift bag from the luxury perfume and cologne brand as she returned to No10 from her constituency this morning. She later left the building bound for Brussels

Mrs May and David Davis looked in good spirits as they left for the Brussels dinner tonight

Mrs May and David Davis looked in good spirits as they left for the Brussels dinner tonight

The meal at the EU headquarters, which is expected to last around 90 minutes, comes after Mrs May made a personal appeal to German Chancellor Angela Merkel to intervene to break the deadlock.

She has also spoken to EU Council President Donald Tusk and Dutch PM Mark Rutte and discussed Brexit with French President Emmanuel Macron this afternoon.

The frantic diplomatic efforts are gearing up for a crunch EU summit in Brussels on Thursday when leaders will assess the state of play on the Brexit talks.

Draft conclusions for this week’s summit suggest the EU could adopt a more conciliatory tone in response to Mrs May’s Florence speech, when she offered to hand over at least £20billion to plug a hole in the EU budget after the UK leaves.

But Berlin and Paris are thought to be pushing for references to the start of trade talks to be watered down.

Mr Juncker has also made it clear he expects the UK to pay much more.

THE STICKING POINTS IN BREXIT TALKS

There are still serious disagreements between Britain and the EU in areas where Brussels has demanded progress before trade talks can start.

THE DIVORCE BILL:

Michel Barnier made clear last week that there was a ‘disturbing’ deadlock on the scale of a divorce bill.

The EU wants the UK to give a broad commitment to meeting all liabilities – including elements such as pension for Eurocrats – for years after we leave.

The PM has refused to go that far, despite floating a £20billion contribution during a transition and offering a limited promise on liabilities.

CITIZENS’ RIGHTS:

Mr Barnier has insisted the UK must accept the EU courts will enforce the rights of EU citizens in Britain after Brexit.

Mrs May has said she cannot accept the ECJ being solely responsible, although there have been signs a compromise with joint jurisdiction could be in the offing.

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson today stepped up calls for the EU to shift and allow talks on a post-Brexit trade deal to begin.

‘We think in the UK that it is time to get on with these negotiations, that it is time for the great ship to go down the slipway and start some serious conversations about the future,’ he told reporters as he arrived for a meeting in Luxembourg this morning. 

Downing Street is hoping the dinner tonight, also due to be attended by Mrs May’s chief advisor Oliver Robbins and Mr Juncker’s powerful chief of staff Martin Selmayr, will go better than the previous gathering.

That meeting at No10 in April ended acrimonously, and sparked a wave of poisonous briefing from Brussels claiming Britain was clueless and completely unrealistic about its approach to Brexit.

No 10 said the dinner was expected to run for 90 minutes from 5.30pm UK time.

The private talks are set to cover the whole scope of the EU Council agenda – including immigration, counter terrorism as well as Brexit.

Mrs May’s official spokesman said: ‘If you look back over the course of the past month or more, there has been a series of engagements between the PM and European leaders.

‘This dinner is part of the wider programme of engagement.

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, pictured arriving for a meeting in Luxembourg today, stepped up calls for the EU to shift and allow talks on a post-Brexit trade deal to begin

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, pictured arriving for a meeting in Luxembourg today, stepped up calls for the EU to shift and allow talks on a post-Brexit trade deal to begin

Downing Street will be hoping the dinner tonight goes better than the last gathering at No10 in April (pictured), which was followed by a spate of poisonous briefing from Brussels

Downing Street will be hoping the dinner tonight goes better than the last gathering at No10 in April (pictured), which was followed by a spate of poisonous briefing from Brussels

‘We think the Florence speech created the momentum the Prime Minister was looking for.’

Mrs May spoke to Mr Macron and Irish Premier Leo Varadkar before the talks tonight.

RISK OF NO DEAL WITH EU HAS NOT RISEN, SAYS HAMMOND 

Philip Hammond today insisted the risk of ‘no deal’ with the EU has not risen – because it is ‘blindingly obvious’ that everyone needs to agree.

Asked in an interview with CNBC whether he thought the prospect was becoming more likely, Mr Hammond said: ‘Personally I don’t think so.’

‘It is so blindingly obviously in the best interests of both the UK and the European Union 27 that we do reach a deal so we can continue trading together.’

No10 said it did not expect the contents of the discussions to be leaked this time. However, Mr Juncker mischievously commented to reporters this afternoon that they would get the ‘post mortem’ tomorrow.

In public at least, Mr Juncker has show little sign of being ready to make concessions.

In an extraordinary intervention last week, he said Europe was grateful for Britain’s help in the war but would not accept the UK leaving without handing over a massive sum. 

He added: ‘They must pay. They must pay.’

Mr Barnier concluded the fifth round of Brexit talks with Mr Davis last week with a gloomy assessment that talks were ‘deadlocked’.

He said there had been a ‘disturbing’ lack of progress on the divorce bill.

Mrs May yesterday telephoned the German Chancellor to urge her to drop her opposition to agreeing to start trade talks at this week’s summit.

David Davis, pictured at a meeting of the joint ministerial council with representatives from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland today, is due to be at the dinner with Mrs May tonight

David Davis, pictured at a meeting of the joint ministerial council with representatives from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland today, is due to be at the dinner with Mrs May tonight

Mr Davis, pictured right at the joint ministerial council in No10 today, has been trying to find a way through the negotiations with the EU

Mr Davis, pictured right at the joint ministerial council in No10 today, has been trying to find a way through the negotiations with the EU

‎Berlin, the largest contributor to the EU budget, is believed to be acting as a major roadblock by demanding the UK commit in writing to pay a divorce bill running into tens of billions of pounds before talks can turn to trade.

‎A Downing Street spokesman said the Prime Minister and Mrs Merkel had agreed on ‘the importance of continued constructive progress in the UK’s exit negotiations.’

DINNER SET TO TEST WHETHER RELATIONS HAVE WARMED UP

Downing Street is hoping the dinner with Jean-Claude Juncker tonight will go better than the previous gathering.

That meeting at No10 in April ended acrimonously, and sparked a wave of poisonous briefing from Brussels claiming Britain was clueless and completely unrealistic about its approach to Brexit.

Mr Juncker’s chief of staff Martin Selmayr was widely blamed for leaking snide details, including the fact that the commission president left ’10 times more sceptical’.

The briefing led to an angry response from Mrs May on the steps of Downing Street in which she warned that ‘there are some in Brussels who do not want these talks to succeed’.

Asked whether Mrs May had demanded assurances that there would be no repeat of the leak after Monday’s dinner, the PM’s official spokesman told reporters: ‘The Prime Minister has had a number of constructive conversations with Jean-Claude Juncker. We expect this to be a constructive dinner.’

Mrs May is under pressure from Eurosceptics to pull the plug on Brexit negotiations if the EU refuses to countenance a move to trade talks by the end of the year.

Former Brexit minister David Jones yesterday said the time was fast approaching to abandon the talks.

Government sources admit there is little hope of EU leaders declaring ‘sufficient progress’ has been made in divorce proceedings to move on to trade.

Senior figures are privately hopeful that trade talks will begin by Christmas. But they are desperate for progress this week to maintain momentum and demonstrate the negotiations are not failing.

Failure to achieve a breakthrough this week will pile pressure on ministers to start making preparations for the UK to leave the EU without a deal in March 2019.

Downing Street denied tonight’s trip showed the talks were in crisis, saying it had been in the diary for ‘weeks’.

Also attending the dinner are Number 10 Brexit adviser Olly Robbins and Mr Juncker’s chief of staff Martin Selmayr. 

Mr Selmayr was widely blamed for leaking details of a previous private dinner at Number 10 in April, when Mr Juncker reportedly said he left ’10 times more sceptical’ than when he arrived.

The leak led to an angry response from Mrs May on the steps of Downing Street in which she warned that ‘there are some in Brussels who do not want these talks to succeed’.

David Davis (left) and Michel Barnier have been engaged in gruelling negotiations over Brexit 

David Davis (left) and Michel Barnier have been engaged in gruelling negotiations over Brexit 

Mrs May will travel to Belgium with the aim of reviving talks that have stalled over EU demands for a divorce payment of up to £90 billion

Mrs May will travel to Belgium with the aim of reviving talks that have stalled over EU demands for a divorce payment of up to £90 billion



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