UK ministers’ charm, offensive in the EU?
While parliament has broken up for its summer recess, Prime Minister Theresa May has been busy dispatching ministers to EU countries in an effort to appeal directly to member states. Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt was sent to Germany, Austria and then France; while Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab and Chancellor Philip Hammond were also in Paris. Cutting short her walking holiday in Italy, May herself held a one-to-one meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron at Fort de Brégançon. The visits to the three countries were yet another attempt from the UK to bypass the Commission, seen as inflexible ‘theologians’ in Whitehall, and talk directly with the member states to get them to take the British negotiating position seriously. The efforts were met with rejection and ridicule in European media, as the French press claimed that there has been a “note of desperation” underlying ministers’ visits to EU member states. Led by Hunt, the cabinet has been remarkably consistent in its messaging: the UK will not blink (this time). Hunt’s interviews have all included a warning that the Commission must show more flexibility, or risk no deal.
Cabinet minister puts no-deal odds at 60%
International Trade Secretary Liam Fox has claimed that a no-deal Brexit is now more likely than an agreement, as he placed the chances of no deal at 60/40. Following the UK’s attempts to convince member states to support its Chequers plan, Dr Fox has adopted the approach of blaming the high likelihood of no-deal on the Commission’s ‘intransigence’. Following the comments, financial markets signalled further doubts about the UK’s ability to successfully negotiate Brexit as the pound plunged to an 11-month low against the dollar. Ironically, just over a year ago, Dr Fox had indicated that a UK-EU trade deal would be “one of the easiest in human history.” However, senior UK officials including Bank of England Governor Mark Carney, have said that the risk of a Brexit no deal is ‘uncomfortably high’ and ‘highly undesirable’. Despite the worry of no deal, Dominic Raab claims that the UK has plans to “secure the food supply” post-Brexit, and so believes there is no major cause for concern.
May’s holiday a bust, and her summit with Macron too
Prime Minister Theresa May cut short her holiday to meet with French President Emmanuel Macron to discuss Brexit. May’s visit to the president’s summer retreat Fort de Brégançon included a five-course meal but a softening of Macron’s stance on Brexit was not on the menu. The French president reiterated his unswerving support for Michel Barnier, the European Commission’s chief negotiator and that no bilateral negotiations would take place between France and the UK at the surprise summit. Lord Rickets, the former head of the Diplomatic Service also dismissed claims that May could get the French president to “break rank”. When interviewed, Lord Rickets said: “First of all, he does not believe in softening [his position] as he is a passionate pro-European. Secondly, he is the last person to want to break ranks with what has been quite an impressively disciplined EU side. We have got to accept we have got to do the hard yards of negotiating in Brussels.”