In a sign that she is dramatically stepping up her personal involvement in the Brussels talks, the Prime Minister will use her long-awaited speech in Florence to warn that the stonewalling tactics of EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier are increasingly jeopardising the chances of a deal.
She will go over the heads of the Brussels diplomat and European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker to tell the heads of the 27 nations remaining in the EU that the discussions cannot proceed without addressing issue of Britain’s future trading relationship with the bloc.
Her personal intervention in the diplomatic wrangle comes amid reports that Brussels is expecting the Prime Minister to offer a “transition payment” of around £18billion cover a two-year withdrawal period after the country’s formal departure from the bloc in March 2019.
Downing Street yesterday dismissed the figure as “speculation”.
Mrs May revealed her determination to bypass stubborn Mr Barnier to reporters travelling with her to the United Nations General Assembly in New York.
“I will be meeting a number of EU leaders over the coming days,” she said.
She pointed out that the negotiator was appointed by the European Commission under the authorisation of the EU Council, which represents the member states, but did not have the power to scupper a deal.
“The negotiations are structured within the EU so of course the councl has given a mandate to the commission, the commission has appointed Michel Barnier but the decision will always be one that will be taken by leaders,” she said.
Mr Barnier is currently threatening to stop the Brexit talks progressing to the issue of Britain’s future trade relationship with the EU after Brexit.
The Prime Minister hopes that, by going over his head to her EU counterparts, he can be pressured to give ground.
Mrs May began reaching out directly to EU leaders this week by meeting French President Emmanuel Macron and Italian prime minister Paolo Gentiloni at the UN gathering in New York.
She will also meet EU Council President Donald Tusk in Downing Street next week.
Reports from Brussels yesterday suggested EU officials had been told by Government insiders to expect an offer of 20 billion euro (£17.7billion) to cover continued access to the EU single market during the transition period.
Senior civil servant Olly Robbins, who was permanent secretary at the Department for Exiting the EU until earlier this week, was said to have rung his EU counterparts to advise them that the Prime Minister will offer the sum.
A Downing Street spokesman said: “There has been much speculation in advance of the speech but it is exactly that.”
At the UN earlier this week, Mrs May repeated her promise that Britain will meet its financial obligations on quitting the EU.
“We are very clear that we are a law abiding nation and we stand by our obligations. There may be projects that we want to be part of and that may involve contributing to the costs of those programmes.
“But these issues are part of the negotiations. Those negotiations have been very constructive,” she said on Monday.
Brexit campaigners yesterday urged Mrs May to use her speech in Florence tomorrow to do all she can to speed up the negotiations.
Leave Means Leave co-chairman Richard Tice called on Mrs May to use Friday’s speech to set out an “optimistic” Brexit vision – and for the talks with Brussels to be dramatically accelerated.
“She’s got to reiterate the optimistic speech she gave in January at Lancaster House, confirming that we’re going to leave the Single Market and Customs Union,” he told Sky News.
“Yes, there’s an issue about settling our accounts. On the basis that one is going to settle those accounts, what is legally due … the negotiations should move forward.
“Everybody should agree that we have to accelerate this process. It’s taking too long, it doesn’t need to take this long.
“In the corporate world, we would be resolving this in a matter of months, not years.”
Mr Tice blamed the current deadlock on the EU for requiring agreement on the money, Irish border and citizens’ rights before other subjects could be tackled.
“They’re all so entwined, much better to do it all together.
“It’s clear now it was a mistake for both sides to accept that (sequence), so both sides should change it and move to talk about it all much quicker, because that’s what the people want and what businesses want,” said Mr Tice.
Mr Tice argued that a transition phase would be unnecessary if negotiations speeded up: “What we need is to sit down 254/7, not one week in every four weeks.”
Mr Tice defended Mr Johnson’s right as Foreign Secretary, with a remit to promote Britain around the world, to talk about Brexit issues as he had in his article last weekend.
Conservative MP Kwasi Kwarteng, parliamentary aide to Chancellor Philip Hammond, said he was not “over the moon” about the prospect of paying the EU another 20 billion euros but that he accepted the “logic”.
“I’m not over the moon but it is a negotiation between two parties,” Mr Kwarteng told the BBC’s Daily Politics.
“Having a commitment to the end of the (EU’s) budget period makes sense, because the budget is a seven-year budget, from 2013 to 2020, and the logic behind the 20 billion is that we will pay until the end of that period, then we won’t have to pay any more.
“I’m not happy about paying it (20 bilion euros) but I can see that there is an argument for paying until the end of the budget period, because we entered into the budget not knowing we were going to leave the EU.
“In an ideal world I wouldn’t want to pay a penny. It would appear now that we are reaching agreement that we will have to pay something, but not over a very long time.”
Tory colleague George Freeman was “getting ahead of himself” earlier in the week to say Britain would have to pay for the privilege of a bespoke deal, Mr Kwarteng added, since negotiations were ongoing.
But Mr Kwarteng insisted that despite discussions about the “means” of Brexit, the Government was united on the end point, that Britain was leaving the EU – despite some Labour and Tory MPs trying to reverse the referendum result.
Mr Johnson’s article did not contain much that was “particularly controversial or that he hadn’t said before”, he added.
On the timing of the article, Mr Kwarteng said Mr Johnson’s mind “works in mysterious ways” but he doubted the Foreign Secretary had contemplated resigning.
“I’m not sure that’s ever crossed his mind. He very much enjoys being Foreign Secretary and I don’t think he had any intention of leaving the job,” said Mr Kwarteng – who also stressed that Mrs May made clear in January that Britain would leave the single market and customs union.
September 21st, 2017: Express