Theresa May is not one of those politicians who enjoys lengthy conversation over lunch. But her lunch on Monday with Jean-Claude Juncker on Monday will be one of the most important lunches in recent British history, I say in The Sun this morning.
Earlier in the week, there was a growing confidence in Whitehall that the lunch would go well, that Juncker would throw his weight behind ‘sufficient progress’ and the UK would formally get there at the December EU Council. But there has been an outbreak of the jitters in the last day or so. I am informed that we are a ‘million miles from this being a done deal’.
The reasons for this skittishness is, as one source explains, that the government is ‘mindful of the lesson of October where we were burnt’. Inside Downing Street, they are insistent that they were told before that Council if they said various things about the money that would be enough to move the talks on to trade. May duly said them, only for the EU to pocket the concessions—and then ask for more. There is a real fear that the same thing could happen again. This time it would be far more politically damaging as May has made some pretty big concessions. She has made clear that the UK will up its divorce payment and is prepared to accept ‘voluntary referral’ of EU citizens’ rights cases to the European Court of Justice.
Those close to the negotiations on the UK side believe that Michel Barnier and his team do realise that Theresa May will be left with little choice but to walk away if she comes home empty-handed. But they fear that the member states, who’ll ultimately make the decision, don’t. ‘The question isn’t whether the Commission know that. But whether Macron, Merkel, Tusk and the Council know that’ frets one.
I still think that the UK is more likely than not to get to ‘sufficient progress’ at the December Council; the collapse of the talks is—ultimately—in neither side’s interests. But with the Irish border issue still very much unresolved, it is going to be a tense few days.