Brexit: May to have extra chance to pitch plans to EU leaders

Austrian chancellor says Britain’s EU exit to be on agenda for September 20th summit

Austrian chancellor Sebastian Kurz and Britain’s prime minister Theresa May shake hands prior to a meeting in the hotel Sacher in Salzburg, Austria on Friday. Photograph: Kerstin Joensson/AP.

Austrian chancellor Sebastian Kurz and Britain’s prime minister Theresa May shake hands prior to a meeting in the hotel Sacher in Salzburg, Austria on Friday. Photograph: Kerstin Joensson/AP.

 

British prime minister Theresa May has received a boost after Austria agreed that Brexit would be among the topics for discussion at an informal meeting of EU leaders.

Downing Street said Austria’s chancellor Sebastian Kurz had agreed that Britain’s departure from the EU would be on the agenda for the European Council being hosted by his country, which currently holds the EU presidency, on September 20th.

It means that Ms May has an extra opportunity to discuss Brexit with leaders of the EU 27 and to convince them to support her plan after a week in which ministers have been deployed to various capitals to woo senior politicians.

The next meeting will be a gathering of EU leaders in Brussels in October, by which time it is been hoped a final Brexit deal will be hammered out.

Ms May was dealt a blow by Brussels on Thursday as its chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, rejected the customs proposals that form a key plank of her White Paper.

A Downing Street spokesman said: “Following their dinner at Downing Street three weeks earlier, the prime minister and Austrian chancellor Sebastian Kurz had a positive conversation ahead of the Salzburg Festival.

“The prime minister updated on the White Paper, and chancellor Kurz confirmed that Brexit would be on the agenda for the informal European Council which Austria would host on September 20th.”

Summer holidays

Ms May also pitched her deal planning to her Czech and Estonian counterparts, Andrej Babis and Juri Ratas, during talks at the Salzburg Festival. She attended the music event before heading off to Italy for the start of her summer holidays.

Ahead of their meeting, Mr Kurz said it was important to “avoid a hard Brexit”.

The news came as the head of a pan-European dairy co-operative warned that a no-deal Brexit could send prices soaring and create problems getting products to consumers.

Ash Amirahmardi, UK managing director of Arla Foods, spoke after ministers last week raised the spectre of foods and medicines being stockpiled as part of contingency planning in case the UK leaves the EU without a deal in place on customs.

Mr Amirahmardi told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that 16 per cent of UK dairy products are imported, and of those 98 per cent were from Europe.

“If we have barriers at our ports then that is what is going to lead to increased prices and potentially supply issues.”

He added that World Trade Organisation (WTO) tariffs, which would come into play if there was no Brexit deal, on dairy products are “penal” and that stockpiling produce is “not something that is really practical for the dairy industry”.

He said the average person in the UK consumes the equivalent of three pints of milk per day, adding: “One of the reasons they do is because of the nutritious benefits of it, but it is also accessible in terms of prices.

“Any increase in the friction of movement of products will inevitably lead to higher costs and therefore one of our concerns is to make sure consumer prices are accessible post-Brexit.” - PA