Tom Goodenough

What the papers say: The cracks could soon show in the EU’s Brexit stance

What the papers say: The cracks could soon show in the EU's Brexit stance
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‘At last’, says the FT, Britain has ‘accepted it must pay its dues to Europe’. ‘It has been a tortuous journey’ to get to this stage and ‘months have been wasted’ along the way. Yet while progress has been made at last, the government has still failed ‘to explain to the public the…cost of leaving’. It’s also the case that while the Brexit divorce offer is now more acceptable to the EU, the bill is ‘only one of three areas in which agreement is needed to unlock talks on the future relationship’. Avoiding a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland remains the trickiest of these problems to find a solution to, and it remains an issue without a ‘simple resolution’. Given this lack of a simple answer, for the time being, argues the FT, ‘the best that can be hoped for’ is ‘fudging the issue’. There is no doubt that there lies 'a rough road ahead for Mrs May’. ‘Maintaining existing legal arrangements’ is unlikely to go down well with Eurosceptic MPs, and perhaps this explains partly why the PM ‘has delayed holding a cabinet-level discussion about the long-term relationship with the EU’ for now. Given the Tory tensions over Brexit, 'stalling has some merit’ for the time being. ‘But the mantra “Brexit means Brexit” cannot go on indefinitely’, concludes the FT, which says the PM ‘must answer what it means in practice’.

Not too long ago, Boris Johnson said the EU ‘could “go whistle”’ if it wanted a big Brexit bill. Now, the Foreign Secretary has changed his tune in light of a reported offer of some £40bn – a sum Boris hopes will “get the ship off the rocks”. This U-turn is ‘important’, says the Times, which suggests the PM has succeeded in uniting the cabinet around her on this issue. EU leaders must now do their bit and ‘begin discussing the most ambitious trade deal in the EU’s history’. The ‘priority’, if talks do progress next month, says the Times, ‘should be a transitional period after March 2019’. This should take the form of a ‘standstill’, suggests the paper, as this will allow businesses to continue under the same conditions as now. After all ‘the more similar the transition is to the status quo, the less disruption business has to endure’. After that, talks will follow on what the trade deal after the transition period will look like. This will be ‘tough’ for everyone involved, predicts the Times. So far, the EU has remained steadfastly united. Now, the ‘cracks’ are likely to show as member countries start to prioritise their own ‘economic interests’. The current suggestion of a Canada-style deal, which the European Commission has indicated is the best Britain can hope for it quits the single market, should also be resisted, says the Times. Such a trade deal is in neither side’s interests and given Britain’s concessions over the Brexit divorce bill, the EU should acknowledge this and ‘kick-start the design of a deal to set a new gold standard in global free trade’.

The £44bn might be ‘hard to swallow’, says the Sun. ‘But, with certain ­conditions, it should be worth it’, says the paper, which argues that so long as the payment does not take the form of a ‘bung’ with the sole purpose of opening up trade talks, it might be a price worth paying ‘for a finalised deal potentially far more valuable to our economy long-term.’. As well as making it clear to Brussels that ‘ no deal’ means ‘no dosh’, Britain must also ensure any trade deal does cover financial services. ‘We must (also) regain the freedom to ditch EU rules, if required, to strike other deals worldwide’, says the Sun. And if that ‘sounds like us having our cake and eating it, that’s because it is’.