EU, Britain in surprise early talks ahead of crunch summit
EU Chief Negotiator for Brexit Michel Barnier and Britain's Brexit Minister Dominic Raab held talks yesterday in Brussels ahead of a crunch summit this week. With Britain set to leave the bloc at the end of March, European Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker is demanding "substantial progress" this week, specifically on the issue of the UK's border with the Republic of Ireland, an EU member.
Raab's talks with Barnier was a head start on Wednesday's summit. "With several big issues still to resolve, including the Northern Ireland backstop, it was jointly agreed that face-to-face talks were necessary ahead of this week's October European Council," said a spokeswoman for Raab's Ministry.
A British Government source said a deal had already been done. "It's very much in the EU's interests to make it look like there's a deal," the source said because it would then leave Britain looking "like we're the ones being intransigent". There are some "big issues" to be resolved and "Dominic has gone to try to resolve the outstanding issues," the source said.
In Brussels, diplomatic sources said member states' ambassadors to the EU had been called for an urgent meeting at 6:30pm (1630 GMT). "They're going to take stock," one source said, but currently the British "don't seem ready yet" to sign off on an agreement. Yesterday's flurry of activity comes as British PM Theresa May prepares to face what one newspaper cartoon dubbed "hell week".
May will tomorrow rake over the Irish border issue with her cabinet, amid speculation that further ministers could resign if the Prime Minister plows on with her proposals. David Davis, who quit as Brexit Secretary in July over May's broad blueprint, wrote in The Sunday Times newspaper that her plans were "completely unacceptable" and urged ministers to "exert their collective authority" this week.