Brexit Bulletin: More Meetings Please

  • U.K. is said to have asked EU for more negotiating sessions
  • Mid-October summit is first deadline for progress
U.K. Asks EU for More Brexit Negotiating Sessions

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The U.K. is using an old trick to meet a deadline: ask for more time.

As the third set of Brexit talks ran into familiar roadblocks and bitter frustrations were aired in public, an October deadline for a breakthrough is looking increasingly hard to meet. So the U.K. has asked the EU to squeeze in more negotiating sessions before then, according to a person familiar with the talks. 

There are only two more rounds planned before an EU summit that will decide if “sufficient progress” has been made on the divorce settlement for talks to move on to trade. The discussions are scheduled in week-long blocks, yet most of the 100-strong team of British officials didn’t arrive in Brussels until mid-morning on Tuesday. A concluding news conference is slated for Thursday lunchtime.

“The leeway the U.K. government has is very limited,” said Florian Otto, head of Europe research at global risk consultancy Verisk Maplecroft. “It isn’t really an option to let the timeline slip because you have a lot of companies waiting to act on contingency plans.”

The EU has slammed the U.K. for presenting policy papers that don’t answer the key questions — such as the contentious divorce bill — and rebuffed the U.K.’s renewed requests for “flexibility.”

It’s sticking to its line that the terms of the split must be settled before trade talks begin. If leaders tell Britain in October that more work still needs to be done, then the next opportunity is probably December. That would leave barely a year for a new set of complex negotiations.

With or without an agreement, the U.K. is set to leave in March 2019 and the bloc won’t even consider transition arrangements until it’s satisfied the divorce settlement is on track. That means agreeing on a methodology for what the U.K. owes, guarantees for EU citizens living in the U.K., and how to manage the U.K.’s new border with the EU, which will run through the middle of the divided island of Ireland.

The Times reported on Wednesday that Prime Minister Theresa May is planning to go over the heads of commission officials and deal directly with leaders. She will reportedly tell them in October that she’s prepared to make a substantial financial payment but as part of a package that allows “significant” single market access and a customs deal during the transition. She may also approach leaders individually beforehand, the Times said. Still, the unity of the EU27 has so far been unbreached. That doesn’t bode well for any attempts to divide and conquer.

Theresa May arriving in Kyoto.
Photographer: Carl Court/Getty Images Europe

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Health Spending | The U.K. government proposes spending £160 million ($207 million) to support medical research and health care as it tries to tackle concerns about the impact of Brexit on the industry.

Food Supply | U.K. shoppers could be deprived of fresh Spanish oranges and prime cuts of Irish beef unless the government quickly smooths out post-Brexit customs processes, the British Retail Consortium warns.

Old Ally | Portugal’s foreign minister says the EU needs to be patient with Britain and should deal with Brexit “as friends and partners.” Still, the U.K. does need to arrive at a unified strategy, which so far it hasn’t, he said in an interview with Bloomberg.

Pound Slump | Sterling’s slump to the lowest since October 2016 has brought the currency near the level that prompted Bank of England Governor Mark Carney to say he and his colleagues weren’t “indifferent” to the exchange rate.

And Finally...

The pro-Brexit elements of the British press are enjoying the summit as a chance for some EU-bashing.

The latest comes from the Telegraph, which reports that lead EU negotiator Michel Barnier earns up to £72,000 (€78,000; $93,000) a year more than David Davis. That “sparked outrage” as the two sides sat down for “tense talks,” the Telegraph said.

Simon Kennedy is away.

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