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Barnier’s Brexit deadline highlights May’s political weakness

10 November 2017

6:12 PM

10 November 2017

6:12 PM

Given all the rows in Westminster at the moment, it’s easy to forget that there are Brexit negotiations going on. But those involved in the talks from the EU’s side haven’t, and neither have they neglected to notice that Theresa May’s government is looking remarkably flimsy. Hence Michel Barnier’s warning today that there are only two weeks in which to make sufficient progress on the very important questions of the Brexit divorce bill, the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland and citizens’ rights. Barnier knows that the pressure is mounting on May at home to move on to trade talks, and that a Prime Minister as weak as her can’t take all that much domestic political pressure.

David Davis was in Brussels today, and pushed back against hints in an EU paper that Northern Ireland might have to stay in the customs union if there wasn’t a hard border, which is just impossible in a minority government supported by the DUP. He insisted that any solution could not come at the expense of the constitutional integrity of the UK. But as ever, he had more to say about the importance of finding a solution than about what that solution might be. And now, time is ticking.

May has been trying to sound authoritative today, warning rebels against slowing the passage of the EU Withdrawal Bill, which returns to the Commons next week. She announced in the Telegraph today that the government has tabled an amendment to the bill which commits Britain to leaving the EU at 11pm on 29 March 2019. The purpose of this is to make it much more difficult for MPs to try to block Brexit – though that’s not to say that the Committee Stage debates are going to be at all easy.

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