Five takeaways from Theresa May’s first EU summit

Glenis Willmott, Labour’s Leader in the European Parliament, on what we learned last week


1. Negotiating with our EU partners will be tougher than the Brexiters think 

For all the internal government wranglings over what kind of Brexit it will be – crystallised in the May/Hammond disagreement on migration – this summit has reinforced that ultimately it is the rest of the EU that will have to agree what kind of deal we get. French President Francois Hollande summed it up by warning that if Theresa May wants a ‘Hard Brexit’ she should expect ‘hard negotiations’. The Brexiters’ fantasy of a pick ‘n’ mix, keep all the good bits deal is disintegrating before our eyes.

2. Theresa May will say one thing in Brussels, and another at home 

Just like her predecessor David Cameron, Theresa May will play whatever tune she thinks her audience wants to hear, reprising her role of backbencher-appeasing tubthumper at the recent Tory Party conference (plans for lists of foreign workers etc.), while acting the responsible stateswoman abroad, insisting she wants the EU to be strong and for Britain to remain at the centre of EU decision-making. It is of course vital that we are, but under Theresa May’s premiership, the opposite is true – her disaster of a Tory conference has hardened views and has made the job even tougher.

3. May has isolated Britain more than ever 

Far from being at the heart of Europe until it leaves, Britain is now even more isolated than before, with the prime minister ‘sidelined and snubbed in Brussels. If she thought September’s meeting in Bratislava of the other 27 EU countries was a one off, she can think again – there’s another one planned for Malta in January. The rest of the EU meeting to decide our future, and discuss the present, without our presence. Britain has voted leave, and lost control.

4. The European Parliament has asserted itself into the Brexit debate 

Theresa May does not just need the agreement of her fellow EU leaders for a Brexit deal, but the European Parliament as well – the EP must approve any deal that is reached. And at the summit we have seen the parliament show its teeth, with President Martin Schulz reiterating the EU’s position on membership of the Single Market: ‘the fundamental freedoms are inseparable, i.e. no freedom of movement for goods, capital and services, without free movement of persons.’

5. CETA impasse highlights difficulty UK will have in striking EU trade deal

The other main agenda item this week was the deadlock over the EU-Canada trade deal, the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA). Negotiations on CETA began seven years ago, and remain unconcluded. All 28 EU governments back it, but it has been blocked by the Wallonia Parliament. If a small Belgian region has the power to block CETA, it has the power to block a future EU-UK trade deal. If international trade secretary Liam Fox still believes Britain can wrap up a deal post-haste, he really is deluded.

Glenis Willmott MEP is Labour’s leader in the European Parliament. Follow her on Twitter @GlenisWillmott

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9 Responses to “Five takeaways from Theresa May’s first EU summit”

  1. NHSGP

    What you don’t realise is that if the UK walks away, the EU has to pay the UK if it wants to trade, (net). They have the trade surplus and tariffs are a percentage of the value of trade.

    Next, they have more migrants in the UK than vice versa. We can easily say they have to pay a minimum tax to cover the cost of their services. 3K per person per year for the NHS. 6.5K a year for each child in education. 20K a year for their state pension if a working adult [per capita increase in the pension debt].

  2. CR

    She cannot fudge membership of the Single Market and leaving the EU. If we remain a member of the Single Market we remain part of the central institutions and processes of the EU. That is not what we voted for.

  3. John Woods

    The problem is one of attitude. We voted to leave; they are annoyed and want to make it as difficult as possible. I hope that sometime in the next two years of negotiations we will get a team that is not all attitude (not Davis, Fox or Johnson) and can proceed to a settlement that will satisfy both sides of the sepaaration. We and they need as much free trade as possible; as much movement of services and capital as possible. There remains the need to control immigration which annoys Poland and the Baltic States and probably many others. I suggest an Australian points system which Johnson is an expert in. We offer to take all their doctors, nurses, technicians and graduates if they allow us to allocate a number of points for every skill. Cannot be difficult if Fox and Johnson understand it.

  4. Colin Kemp

    So sad to see the leave lobby still peddling the view that we can retain all the benefits of membership with none of the responsibilities and costs. They are like the bloke who wants a divorce, doesn’t want to pay alimony, would prefer not to bother with the kids until they are grown up and independent… but still wants full conjugal rights. Not only unrealistic, but shames Britain and its values. All about (self-articulated) rights, nothing about responsibilities.

  5. Mick

    What this Labour woman is basically saying – along with other Remoaners – is that we’ve only gone and angered our strong, perfect Euromasters, in our baffling and racist defiance of them!

    We have the assets, banking system, trade offers, standing in the world, free market playing and public backing to be a free nation. Under the EU, we can’t be allowed to trade with the Commonwealth. They were jealous.

    Our Eurofuhrers can huff and puff. But they live in a house of straw and can’t afford to punish us.

  6. Chester Draws

    2. Theresa May will say one thing in Brussels, and another at home.

    Because the Remain politicians never did that, did they. David Cameron didn’t pretend to get reforms without actually trying, for example.

    Labour are led by Corbyn, who doesn’t even say the same thing at home. He was firmly Exit, and now is pretending to be Remain.

  7. Kate

    Hi NHSGP, the EU has a trade surplus with the UK but, being so much larger than the UK, as a percentage of its total trade EU is much less reliant on its trade with the UK than the UK is on its trade with the EU.
    I think it entirely possible that certain members of the EU will happily forego trade with the UK to make a political point or attract investment into the EU, away from the UK.
    I hope your your assessment is right and I am proved overly pessimistic though.

  8. Mick

    Maybe that is too pessimistic, given many EU nations’s citizens also wanting to leave, plus Greece.

    Loss of its currency stopped the nation from stabilising much earlier. And the Germans are sick of having to pay for the other EU nations’ relative poverty.

    The EU is not the granite monolith its supporters say it is. There’s a lot of programming for a lot of people to break during Brexit. There’ll be a whole lot of grief, with Remainers currently still in the denial phase.

  9. ted francis

    Please can we get a true perspective of this, “the British people voted Leave” mantra. Because actually only 17,410,742 voted Leave, 29,089,742 didn’t. Of that figure 16,141,241 put their cross on a ballot paper. That leaves 12,948,018 who didn’t. How can you say, “the British people have spoken” when almost 13m didn’t say a word!
    You may remember that the accepted betting was that the Remainers would carry the day. So it’s safe to assume that a lot of people were happy to accept a forgone conclusion and didn’t bother to vote. Think about this: if just over 10% of the non-voters had turned out and put the cross against the presumed favourites………….
    So there you are, it’s wildly incorrect to say “the British people voted to Leave”. It’s more accurate to say some 37.5% of British voters voted for Leave, 34% voted Remain but 28% didn’t vote at all……that’s over a quarter of the electorate!

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