Only last month, the Government was still keeping up the pretence of being optimistic that Brexit trade talks with the EU could start by October. Now the hope of doing so is fading fast. The European Council president Donald Tusk used a trip to Downing Street today to deliver a stark message: ‘there is not sufficient progress yet’.
— BBC News (UK) (@BBCNews) September 26, 2017
This is a blow to the Government, with ministers now resigning themselves for the next phase of trade talks being pushed back, possibly until Christmas or beyond. The Brexit department’s optimism – a spokesman said in August they were ‘confident we will have made sufficient progress by October to advance the talks’ – has now had a reality check.
Tusk pulled no punches in his message on the steps of Downing Street, saying that Britain’s ‘philosophy of having a cake and eating it, is finally at an end’. This dig at Boris will rile many – as will Tusk’s reference to Brexit as an exercise in ‘damage control’. But it makes it clear that the EU is confident it has the upper hand in Brexit negotiations, at least for the time being. Tusk praised May’s Florence speech and said that he was ‘cautiously optimistic’ about how things were now progressing. So while Theresa May will have to wait for trade talks to start, it’s clear that the PM’s Florence charm offensive is paying off. With Tory conference just days away, she now has another Brexit battle on her hands: reassuring those closer to home that she isn’t now giving too much away.