Brexit: Barnier to brief EU ministers ahead of major summit

EU now preparing for final deal to be struck at emergency summit in November

Simon Coveney briefed Cabinet on Tuesday. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Simon Coveney briefed Cabinet on Tuesday. Photograph: Cyril Byrne


EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier is due to brief EU ministers, including Tánaiste Simon Coveney, on the remaining issues in the Brexit divorce talks at a meeting in Brussels on Tuesday.

Before leaving for Brussels, Mr Coveney briefed Cabinet on preparations for Brexit when the Government met on Tuesday morning.

Among the negotiation issues to be discussed on Tuesday are the Irish Border and the framework for the UK’s future relationship with the EU.

The Brussels meeting comes on the eve of a major summit in Salzburg, Austria, on Wednesday. British prime minister Theresa May will use that gathering to make a direct pitch to fellow leaders to back her divisive Chequers proposals.

UK Brexit secretary Dominic Raab said it was time for the “compromises” made by the UK to be “matched on the EU side”.

In a sign that Brexit talks could go to the wire, the European Union is preparing for a final deal to be struck at an emergency summit in November, rather than the scheduled October meeting previously targeted by both sides in the negotiations.

The deal has to be finalised well in advance of the UK’s March 29 2019 exit from the bloc so the parliaments in Westminster and Strasbourg can sign off on the agreement.

Arriving at the Brussels meeting on Wednesday, Brexit minister Lord Callanan said: “If we are to get a deal there has to be compromises from both sides and we look forward to seeing what the EU side has to say about this.”

The message echoed that from Mr Raab, who set out the UK’s position in an interview with journalists from newspapers across the EU.

Setting out the UK’s hopes, Mr Raab said the Salzburg meeting at which Ms May is expected to briefly set out her position over dinner on Wednesday night before her 27 counterparts consider the situation in her absence on Thursday, would be “an important milestone” and “a stepping stone” to a deal.

But he made clear the UK was looking for further movement from the EU on the Irish border.

He branded Mr Barnier’s “backstop” proposals — which would see Northern Ireland remain in the EU customs area — unworkable, because they would create a border in the Irish Sea and fail to respect the constitutional integrity of the UK.

“What I’m not going to do is to say that I would refuse to entertain any further proposals that the EU comes up with but they’ve got to be respecting the equities that we’ve set out,” he told correspondents from European newspapers including Germany’s Die Welt, France’s Le Monde and The Irish Times.

In a high-profile Panorama interview on Monday, Ms May framed the decision facing the country as a choice between her deal or no deal.

But with large numbers of Tory hard Brexiteers openly rejecting the Chequers plan, Liberal Democrat leader Sir Vince Cable said the scene was set for a second referendum.

Sir Vince told BBC Radio 4’s Today: “I think growing numbers of people — we are already seeing it from senior Labour people and a few Conservatives — will say that the only way forward is to take this back to the public and say: ‘Do you accept what Theresa May has negotiated or would you rather stay in the European Union?”’

A demonstration at the Labour conference in Liverpool on Sunday will add to pressure on Jeremy Corbyn to throw his weight behind calls for a second referendum.

But Mr Raab rejected talk of a second vote, saying: “Even if that’s what people want to do, it’s difficult to see how it could be done in time, and we wouldn’t facilitate it.”

European Council president Donald Tusk said he wanted to avoid the “catastrophe” of a no-deal Brexit.

In a letter to EU leaders he said they should discuss arrangements for the “final phase” of the Brexit talks “including the possibility of calling another European Council in November”.

He said the EU leaders should also reconfirm the need for a “legally operational backstop” on Ireland to avoid a hard border.

Mr Tusk added that leaders should work on “limiting the damage” caused by Brexit.

“Unfortunately, a no-deal scenario is still quite possible. But if we all act responsibly, we can avoid a catastrophe.”–Press Association