James Forsyth

The unwelcome distraction waiting for the PM in Salzburg

The unwelcome distraction waiting for the PM in Salzburg
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Theresa May heads to Salzburg tomorrow to try and persuade the leaders of the EU27 of the merits of her Brexit plan. But there’ll be an unwelcome distraction for her in the morning. I understand that the European Commission will issue a reasoned opinion in the Olaf case, where the Commission accuses the UK of failing to prevent customs fraud on shoes and textiles imported from China and is demanding over two billion euros in lost revenue.

The UK continues to contest this case, and I understand it has asked the Commission for more information on various points. But the timing of this reasoned opinion has raised eyebrows in government circles. It seems more than a coincidence that it is appearing on the day that May sits down with the leaders of the EU 27.

It is hard not to see the timing of this announcement as an attempt by the Commission to remind EU leaders to treat the UK’s proposals with caution, and to think about how they would be policed.