EU toughens stance on brexit setting new obstacles to agreement

Article 50 of the EU's Lisbon Treaty. Photo illustration taken in Brussels, Belgium, June 24, 2016. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir/Illustration/Files

FT — The EU has already started backtracking  on the ‘gentleman’s agreement’ between May and Junker and are reported to have toughened their stance on Brexit, making clear that talks on a future EU-UK relationship will not begin until March and insisting Britain will stay fully covered by EU rules during a transition — while losing its voice within regulatory agencies — after it leaves the bloc in 2019.

Senior national officials have changed draft guidelines on the next phase of talks so they no longer suggest that “preliminary and preparatory” discussions on trade can begin early next year.

Theresa May’s government was promised an ambitious and far-reaching trade deal as the final goal of the Brexit talks, although the EU says a formal accord will have to wait until the UK leaves the bloc and that only a more general “political declaration” will be possible beforehand.

The new version of the guidelines, which alters a text issued by European Council president Donald Tusk after Mrs May held successful divorce talks in Brussels last week, state that EU countries oppose a quick start to such trade negotiations.

Diplomats said member states had been irritated by comments over the weekend by David Davis, the UK’s Brexit minister, that last week’s agreement was “much more a statement of intent than it was a legally enforceable thing”.

Michel Barnier, Brussels’ chief negotiator said “We will not accept any backtracking from the UK on their commitments,”adding that the EU would only conclude a final deal on trade and transition if last week’s divorce deal with Mrs May was honoured.

Mr Tusk underlined the importance of a common front among the remaining 27 members as the negotiations head to their decisive phase. He added that last week’s deal only signified “moderate progress, since we only have ten months left to determine the transition period and our future relations with the UK.”

The new draft foresees that talks with the UK between January and March next year will instead be focused on the conditions the EU will set for the transition period that Mrs May seeks of about two years after 2019.

It reiterates that during the transition period the UK will have to comply fully with EU trade policy — and not strike its own deals — even though the country is due in 2019 to fall out of trade agreements with more than 50 nations that have struck accords with the EU.

The draft also says that, once the UK leaves the bloc, it will lose not just its voting rights in EU institutions but also any right to “participate in the decision-making of the Union bodies, offices and agencies”.

It adds that the UK will have to comply with any new EU rules produced during the transition, including technical standards set by the bloc’s roughly 40 specialised agencies, which cover sectors ranging from food standards to maritime safety. UK groups from sectors including chemicals, pharmaceuticals and airlines have asked to remain under EU rules even after the transition, so as to prevent obstacles to trade and avoid duplicating or increasing regulations.

This week’s EU summit is set to give the formal green light to the next stage in Brexit talks after last week’s divorce deal.