Theresa May urged to make ‘deal or no deal’ ultimatum at Brexit summit as EU leaders agree to meet Corbyn first
Britain must be prepared to walk away from the EU and stop negotiations if European leaders do not agree to trade talks at a crucial summit on Thursday evening, senior figures behind the Leave campaign warned on Wednesday night.
In an open letter to the Prime Minister, four former Cabinet ministers, as well as MPs, business leaders and academics demanded she “formally declare” that Britain will leave the EU and conduct trade deals via the World Trade Organisation.
The warning from the Leave campaign comes after the EU talks became deadlocked and amid fears the beleaguered Prime Minister will be humiliated at a key summit of EU leaders in Brussels.
Sources in Brussels have told The Telegraph that EU leaders will tell Mrs May Britain must agree to pay some money into the EU budget until 2023, rather than 2021 under the current offer, before there can be any movement on trade talks.
EU leaders will also meet Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader, in Brussels before their audience with the Prime Minister, in another calculated snub to Mrs May.
On Thursday it emerged that the Government may be preparing to suspend Parliamentary discussions over a Brexit bill until the new yearfollowing opposition from Labour and dozens of Conservative MPs.
With mounting fury in Westminster at the EU’s behaviour, former Conservative Party leader Iain Duncan Smith and other MPs said it was time for Mrs May to call the EU’s bluff.
They say Mrs May should declare that Britain will be leaving the EU and trading under World Trade Organisation rules from March 30, 2019, arguing that: “No deal on trade is better than a deal which locks the UK into the European regulatory system and takes opportunities off the table.”
The letter goes on: “It has become increasingly clear that the European Commission is deliberately deferring discussions on the UK’s future trading relationship with the EU27 post-Brexit.
“The EU is taking this approach because they do not believe that the UK would be prepared to go to WTO rules for our trading relationship with them.
“If at the European Council this week, the EU continues to refuse to discuss the future framework for a trade relationship, we should formally declare that we are assuming that we will be subject to WTO rules from 30th March 2019.”
The Prime Minister will address the EU leaders on Thursday night at a dinner, where she will renew her pleas to begin talks on the future partnership between Britain and the EU. It will be her first chance to address them since making her Florence speech last month.
Mrs May has made it clear that Britain’s “generous” offer of £20 billion to settle the so-called divorce bill means it is the EU’s turn to give ground, but the Council is expected to tell Mrs May she must offer even more money to trigger trade talks.
Already facing the cold shoulder from EU leaders, Mrs May might also be served a cold supper after the summit building was evacuated on Wedneday because of noxious fumes filling its kitchen, meaning the dinner, and her address to the leaders, could be cut short.
The letter to Mrs May from MPs, which is also signed by business leaders, suggests that the EU is holding Britain to ransom because it does not believe the UK is serious about crashing out without a deal.
The signatories to the letter, who include Lord Lawson, former Tory Cabinet ministers Peter Lilley, John Redwood MP and Owen Paterson MP and Labour MPs Kate Hoey and Graham Stringer, say that Britain has been “more than patient” with the EU but must now act to end the “highly damaging” uncertainty for businesses and citizens.
They say that if the EU subsequently decided to agree a free trade deal, it would be “a bonus” but in the meantime Britain could make proper preparations for a no-deal outcome.
The letter is also signed by business leaders including Tim Martin, chairman of pub chain JD Wetherspoon, John Longworth, former director-general of the British Chambers of Commerce, and the economists Roger Bootle and Prof Patrick Minford of Economists for Free Trade.
Mr Duncan Smith said: “She has got to go to Brussels and tell them ‘we have put a lot on the table and you need to move’.
“This is the moment when she needs to tell them that no deal is a real threat to them. We have to move and they have to say they are ready.”
Another former Tory minister said: “We’re at the point where we need to make a decision do we go ahead with negotiations or do we say we’re going to pull out. We haven’t got the luxury of time here.
“The best thing she could do is turn up in Brussels and tell them that we’re going to go. It would be far more effective if she just said we’re off.”
A senior Government official said Mrs May would use the dinner to urge the other leaders to “focus on the opportunities and challenges ahead and encourage them to move the conversation on to consider the future partnership”.
The official added that Mrs May believes “the talks are heading in the right direction”.
However, EU diplomats have told The Telegraph they believe there is only a “50/50 chance” of any progress being made by the European Council’s final meeting of the year in December.
The leaders’ summit will take place in the Justus Lipsius Centre in Brussels after the Europa Building, nicknamed the “space egg”, was evacuated for the second time in five days yesterday.
One EU official said it meant the leaders would be served a cold supper, adding: “The dinner isn’t expected to last very long or be a very relaxed affair. The other leaders aren’t going to be in the mood to listen to Mrs May speak for too long.”
October 18th, 2017: Telegraph