Michel Barnier’s press conference had good news and bad news for the UK government. On the bright side, the EU’s chief negotiator promised to stay put and hold continuous – expected to be weekly – negotiations with Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab to try and bridge the differences between the two sides.
However, he also promised not to budge when it comes to his negotiating position. Responding to accusations that the EU has proved inflexible, Barnier said: ‘We haven’t changed our principles over two years — but why would we? Why would we change the principles on which the EU is based? The UK is leaving the EU, not the other way around.’ Barnier did, however, hit a more optimistic note when he declared that his goal was to strike a future partnership of ‘unprecedented’ scope.
Raab responded by telling the BBC that the EU must match the UK’s ‘ambition and pragmatism’ if progress is to be made. For now though, No 10 will just be hoping that it hasn’t miscalculated its Chequers gamble. For that to pay off, the member states need to adopt a more pragmatic approach than Barnier. It is at the Salzburg summit with the EU27 next month that Downing Street hopes Theresa May will be able to make a real breakthrough. If that doesn’t happen, the Prime Minister will need a plan B – and fast.