Brexit: Boris Johnson ‘battling for Britain’ says Barclay
Lord Hague, who led his party between 1997 and 2001, believes the face-to-face meeting between the Prime Minister and his European counterpart was the moment the EU began to cave on its demands. Discussions that evening have been described as “frank” and “lively” as the two sides confronted each other on their red lines in trade deal negotiations.
Sticking points on fishing, state aid and fair competition remained, with neither side willing to compromise.
The supper at the European Commission headquarters last week was Mr Johnson’s first trip to Brussels since becoming Prime Minister, after refusing to travel to the capital before.
Mr Johnson had been eager to avoid falling into the pitfalls of his predecessor, Theresa May, and did not want to appear willing to travel to Brussels at the EU’s demand.
But Lord Hague says the confrontation was an important moment in changing the momentum in negotiations.
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Lord Hague has vast experience in protecting the UK’s interests abroad himself, having represented the UK at countless EU negotiations, UN summits and bilateral meetings as Foreign Secretary between 2010 and 2014.
Writing in the Telegraph this morning, he said: “When Ursula von der Leyen entertained the PM to dinner last week, she will have known he is under the pressure of hundreds of thousands of jobs being at stake, according to the UK’s own forecasts.
“Yet she will also have looked into his eyes and seen that he is adamant that he is prepared to leave with no deal anyway.
“It is an advantage at such a moment if your counterpart believes you are crazy enough to cause a lot of damage rather than settle for a poor outcome.”
Since the dinner, there has been hope a Brexit trade deal may be nearing, with progress made in the talks.
UK negotiator David Frost and the EU’s Michel Barnier have worked every day – and sometimes even through the night – since last Wednesday’s supper to try and break the deadlock.
It is understood over the weekend Brussels dropped its demand for a so-called ratchet clause to be added to the trade deal.
The controversial measure would have allowed the EU to unilaterally place tariffs on the UK if it felt British firms had an unfair advantage over their European counterparts.
Mr Johnson has warned it would force the UK to follow EU rules even once freed from the transition period at the end of this month.
On Sunday, Mr Johnson and Ms von der Leyen spoke again, this time over the phone, where they are said to have held a “constructive” conversation and agreed to “to the extra mile” to make a deal happen.
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Yesterday the EU appeared optimistic about the chances a trade deal could be reached before the final end of year deadline.
Mr Barnier told EU ambassadors there was now a “narrow path” to a deal.
An EU diplomat briefed by the chief negotiator said: “There might now be a narrow path to an agreement visible – if negotiators can clear the remaining hurdles in the next few days.”
However, a UK source was more pessimistic, warning: “Talks remain difficult and we have not made significant progress in recent days, despite efforts by the UK side to bring energy and ideas to the process.”
Lord Hague said the downbeat tone from the UK was still all a part of the negotiating tactics, to ensure the EU understood Britain was unlikely to cave at the last second.
He said: “It should not be a surprise that, on Sunday, when the EU expressed a modicum of optimism, Boris Johnson continued to stress the likelihood of no deal being reached.
“An underestimation of British determination in Brussels would be fatal to the talks and he is right to focus on correcting it.
“Soon we will know whether this necessary posture has worked.”
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