Financial Times

May agrees to lay out Brexit plan as Barnier sets deadline for talks

by Kate Allen, George Parker & Alex Barker, Financial Times

December 7, 2016 | 10:34 am
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Theresa May yesterday bowed to pressure to set out her Brexit plans before triggering the Article 50 exit clause next year, as the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, set an October 2018 deadline for completing exit talks.

Mrs May attempted to head off a House of Commons rebellion by pro-European Conservative MPs today by agreeing to reveal her Brexit strategy – although in practice details of the “plan” may turn out to be sketchy.

The prime minister will also use a vote in the House to flush out diehard Remain supporters by inviting MPs to back an amendment committing them to respect the vote to leave the EU.

While Mrs May’s team at Westminster was attempting to manage parliamentary unrest about her coy strategy, Mr Barnier was laying down the terms of the negotiation that should see Britain leave the EU by March 2019.

Mr Barnier said in Brussels that Britain should be realistic about what EU trade terms could be agreed during Brexit talks that are compressed into just 15-18 months.

Promising to “keep calm and negotiate” once the UK invokes the EU’s ­formal withdrawal procedure, Mr Barnier stressed that his priority would be maintaining the unity of the remaining 27 EU members.

“All in all there will be less than 18 months to negotiate. That will be short,” he said, referring to the need for EU preparations plus some four to five months for ratification by the UK, 27 national parliaments and the European Parliament.

For these reasons Mr Barnier is aiming for a draft exit deal by October 2018. Downing Street said it was “the first [it had] heard” of such a timescale but it was broadly in line with expectations.

At Westminster, Mrs May has tried to conceal details of her Brexit plan for fear of weakening her negotiating position but yesterday she agreed to a Labour demand that she publish some information. At least 20 pro-European Tories were prepared to rebel on the issue, according to Anna Soubry, the former business minister.

Downing Street said Mrs May had already promised more details before activating Article 50 and some objectives were already becoming clearer: for example her willingness for Britain to carry on paying money to the EU for single market access.

Labour called it a “hugely significant climbdown” but the concession may be less significant than it sounds. Mrs May’s allies claim she has already given details of her “plan”, explaining to MPs last month the broad parameters of her objective. These include controlling free movement and securing “the best possible” trading deal.

Privately senior Tories said Labour conceded they would have put Mrs May under more pressure if they had demanded a detailed white paper on the plan.

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by Kate Allen, George Parker & Alex Barker, Financial Times

December 7, 2016 | 10:34 am
12893  |   93   |   0  |   Start Conversation

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