There are fears that the UK’s Brexit plans are running into trouble not just in Brussels, but also in Westminster.
The government’s major piece of legislation on the UK’s departure from the EU is set to come back before Parliament much later than expected, it’s widely thought because of political opposition including among ruling Conservative ranks.
The EU Withdrawal Bill – a mechanism to transfer European law into UK law, and absolutely crucial to avoid legal chaos – has not been scheduled for debate next week and it’s thought may not be discussed until after mid-November.
The government insists there has been no “delay” as no date had been set – but it’s now feared that its Brexit plans on the domestic front are slipping seriously behind schedule.
In Brussels too, this week is expected to bring confirmation that negotiations will not be moving onto the next stage just yet. A European Council meeting of EU government leaders is set to agree that not enough progress has been made on priority issues – above all the UK’s so-called exit bill – to move onto considering future trade and transitional arrangements.
In the House of Commons on Wednesday, Prime Minister Theresa May again refused to rule out a “no deal” scenario. She has come under pressure from pro-Brexit voices to be ready to walk out of talks, while the opposition and many in business have been raising the alarm over the consequences of no agreement being reached with the EU.
She said it would be “irresponsible” not to prepare for all scenarios after the UK leaves the EU in March 2019. Whereas the Labour and SNP (Scottish National Party) opposition were ready to accept a deal “at any price to the British taxpayer, whatever the damage that would do to our economy… we will not do that”, she argued.
Some EU leaders have again accused the British government of a lack of clarity over its Brexit plans, hampering negotiations. “It is very hard for us as European prime ministers to understand exactly what the UK wants the new relationship to look like,” Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar told the BBC.
The President of the European Parliament, Antonio Tajani, went further – describing the UK’s purported offer of 20 billion euros so far as “peanuts”, suggesting 50 or 60 billion as a more realistic figure for a financial settlement.
“We need our money back, as Mrs Thatcher said 30 or 40 years ago. This is important for us,” he told BBC’s Newsnight.
A German official quoted by Reuters believed a lot had been achieved in Brexit negotiations over matters such as citizens’ rights, saying that although at the moment insufficient progress had been made to move to the next phase, “we are all in good spirits”.