Brexit: Brussels takes steps to avoid ‘scaring the horses’ in London

May hints she will focus on changing political declaration, not the withdrawal agreement

European affairs ministers will hear a first strongly supportive response from EU capitals to the Brexit withdrawal agreement when they meet in Brussels this morning.

And they will hear about progress on the final draft of the joint political declaration on the future relationship between the EU and UK, which will be considered at Sunday’s Brexit summit alongside the legally binding withdrawal agreement. Drafting on the declaration was being completed by negotiators this weekend but, as one source said, “there’s still five days’ work to do”.

Ministers today are also likely to want to indicate very clearly that they do not regard talk of renegotiating the withdrawal agreement text at this stage as realistic. Even amendments from the 27 are being discouraged out of fear of unravelling the deal.

Ambassadors meeting Michel Barnier on Sunday were also encouraged not to "scare the horses" in London by debating the issue in public.


European affairs ministers from the 27 remaining states meet in the General Affairs Council (article 50) in special session to prepare the summit.

May in Brussels

UK prime minister Theresa May said yesterday she would travel to Brussels this week ahead of the summit to meet European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker.

Mrs May, under pressure from within her cabinet, hinted in a weekend interview that she would focus on changing the political declaration rather than amending the withdrawal agreement. “Getting that future relationship right is necessary. Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed,” she said.

Her resigning Brexit secretary Dominic Raab yesterday made a strong issue in a BBC interview with Andrew Marr of the draft declaration language that currently promises "ambitious customs arrangements that build on the single customs territory provided for in the withdrawal agreement". He saw it as evidence that the UK would be trapped in a customs union, accusing the EU of subjecting the UK to "blackmail" on the issue.

Mrs May could well target the paragraph in her meeting with Mr Juncker. A reformulation would help to provide evidence to her sceptics she is fighting back against Brussels.

Other business

Preparations for December's EU summit will also be under way in Brussels today as eurogroup finance ministers gather. Paschal Donohoe will join a discussion on deepening the Economic and Monetary Union (EMU).

Foreign and defence ministers, including Ireland's Simon Coveney and Minister of State for Defence Paul Kehoe, will meet together to discuss EU co-operation in security and defence and review the implementation of the EU Global Strategy in this area, including the new framework for military co-operation, Permanent Structured Co-operation (Pesco).

Agriculture ministers, including Michael Creed, will debate fixing fishing quotas for deep-sea fish stocks and post-2020 CAP reform . They will also have an exchange of views on the work of the recently set up Task Force on Rural Africa.

Patrick Smyth

Patrick Smyth

Patrick Smyth is former Europe editor of The Irish Times