October 20, 2017
Why is everybody so nice to Mrs May?
By the standards of historic high noon occasions in European diplomacy, Brexit is a bit of a bore. No, there was no breakthrough last night, and yes, there is a real deadline for December for the first round of the Brexit talks. So we are going to have a classic build-up, and possibly another one of those very long EU summits in December. But the mood seems to have changed. The participants at the summit last night explained the mechanism by which they hope to reach that agreement. According to Laura Kuenssberg of the BBC, Theresa May told EU leaders that her Florence speech was not the last word on finances, while Angela Merkel also tried to strike a positive note, saying she had received no indication that the trade talks could not start in December. She also made a positive comment on the progress of the Brexit negotiations so far. This confirmed our story from yesterday that Germany's main concern is now to get on with a smooth Brexit outcome, but without caving in on the substance of the talks.
We are also optimistic that a deal will be reached. It will still be difficult, as such deals always are. And it will be the first genuine political Brexit test after the referendum.
The BBC's Europe editor Katya Adler reported that EU leaders went out of their way to ensure that May would not go home empty-handed, agreeing on internal talks - to start on Monday - about the transition and trade deal ahead of the December meeting. This will allow the EU not only to agree a deal in December, but to start trade negotiations right away.
The British government, meanwhile, has found a common and much less offensive language about dealing with a no-deal scenario. Brexit secretary David Davis said that the government was preparing for no deal as an insurance option, but does not intend to pursue the option actively, according to the Times.