EU leaders to discuss Brexit at summit in boost to trade deal hopes

USA World
European Union leaders including Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron will discuss Brexit after the issue forced its way onto their agenda early. - Shutterstock
European Union leaders including Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron will discuss Brexit after the issue forced its way onto their agenda early. – Shutterstock

European Union leaders will discuss Brexit at their European Council September summit , a month earlier than planned, in a boost to British hopes of hitting Boris Johnson’s October deadline for a trade deal. 

Charles Michel, the European Council president, and Michel Barnier met in Brussels on Friday, the day after the EU’s chief negotiator met with David Frost.

As recently as Thursday, senior EU diplomats were insisting there was no way Brexit would force itself onto the agenda of the summit. EU officials inisted the discussion would be a brief analysis of the state of play. 

UK sources told the Telegraph that the decision to put the trade negotiations before the heads of state and government of the EU-27 was hopefully a sign the EU had begun to take the Prime Minister’s October 15 deadline seriously. 

Mr Johnson has said that if the trade deal is not finalised by October 15, shortly before another EU summit the same month, both sides should prepare for a no deal Brexit, which will mean trading on WTO terms and with tariffs. 

In London, George Eustice, the Brexiteer Environment Secretary predicted that even if there was a no deal exit, “common sense” would break out in the new year and an agreement would be signed. 

“I just think it is implausible that it would be a long term scenario where we will have no free trade agreement or partnership at all with our nearest neighbour,” he told BBC radio, 

“If there is to be no deal as you put it, it is more likely to be no deal yet.”

Sources in Brussels have made it clear that if Britain was forced back to the negotiating table after an economically damaging no deal, it would be faced with the same demands over issues such as the level playing field guarantees but enjoy far less goodwill from the EU.

The last round of trade negotiations in London were overshadowed by the row over Mr Johnson’s Internal Market Bill, which Brussels says breaks the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement and international law. 

On Friday Amal Clooney, the famous human rights lawyer quit as the UK’s special envoy on media freedom in protest at the “lamentable” bill, which will face stiff opposition in the House of Lords despite a compromise being brokered with Tory rebel MPs.

The EU has threatened to walk away from negotiations and to take legal action against Britain unless the offending clauses are excised before the end of the month. 

“Brexit will be discussed at the European Council next week in an information point. It will be an occasion to briefly analyse the situation.” an EU official said. 

The  official said there was a need to fully implement the Withdrawal Agreement. “The EU is neither intimidated or impressed but breaking an international agreement is extremely worrying,” the official said. 

The source said the EU leaders remained “firm and steady” and was still looking to agree a trade deal with the UK “but that requires substantial progress on key issues such as the level playing field and fisheries.”

The official said time was short to agree the deal by the October deadline and prevent a no deal exit at the end of the year, when the UK leaves the transition period and the Single Market and Customs Union. 

On Thursday, a senior EU diplomat briefed reporters in Brussels that “It is very clear that there is going to be no Brexit on the end of the agenda.”

He said that the time for any concrete decisions on Brexit by the EU’s leaders would be the October summit. That is when they will be expected to either back the draft trade deal, if the agreement is ready in time. 

The next round of trade negotiations is in Brussels at the end of the month.