The Irish Prime Minister has called on the UK Government to provide “real detail” in its Brexit position as he arrived at a summit of EU leaders in Brussels.
“I think we are well beyond the point of aspirations and principles. We need detail,” Leo Varadkar said.
“Hopefully when the Prime Minister speaks next week the UK will be more clear about what it wants in terms of the new relationship and will back that up with real detail; detail that can be written into a legal treaty with the EU,” Mr Varadkar said.
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Irish PM @campaignforleo says it’s ‘not possible for UK to be aligned to EU when it suits & not when it doesn’t. The UK needs to square that circle. It’s not yet squared. UK position
needs to be backed up with real detail. We are well beyond aspirations we need detail’ @SkyNews pic.twitter.com/wb4UBrxVop
— Mark Stone (@Stone_SkyNews) February 23, 2018
Speaking to Sky News on their arrival at the summit in Brussels, a number of leaders echoed Mr Varadkar’s call, adding that they did not know the conclusions Mrs May and her Brexit “war Cabinet” had come to at their Chequers meeting on Thursday.
“I am commenting on the outcome of the Chequers meeting when I know what the exact conclusions are,” European Commission President Jean-Claude Junker said.
Asked when he expected to get detail on the British Cabinet meeting, Mr Juncker added, jokingly: “I am not the British Prime Minister. It would be good for Britain if I was!”
“You have to report to me what they did [at Chequers], that’s your job!” the Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said.
Questioned about whether the EU side was maintaining its united line on Brexit and not allowing the UK to cherry pick aspects of the EU, Mr Rutte said there was full agreement.
“Yes we are aligned as 27 and yes we have very close ties with Britain. That’s why, as good friends, we can bring the difficult messages like I did last Wednesday in Downing Street: asking Theresa May to be as clear as possible on what she wants to achieve,” the Dutch Prime Minister said.
Dutch PM @MinPres speak to @SkyNews as he arrives at EU summit. He says he doesn’t know what was decided at Chequers yesterday. “That’s your task – you have to report to me what they did!” But he says there remains complete unity among 27 remaining countries on #Brexit pic.twitter.com/mfohfxuZKb
— Mark Stone (@Stone_SkyNews) February 23, 2018
“I really believe that as 27 we have a reasonable position, that we want to stay as closely associated with the UK as possible but for example, membership of the internal market means serious obligations, membership of the customs union means serious obligations.
“So it’s always, if you want something, there are certain rules you have to abide by,” Mr Rutte said.
Mr Varadkar added: “It’s not a la carte. It’s not possible to be aligned with the European Union when it suits and not when it doesn’t. That’s not possible and I think the United Kingdom really needs to square that circle and it doesn’t appear to me that that circle has yet been squared.”
But in language which will be seen as encouraging by the British Government, the President of the European Parliament, Antonio Tajani repeated a phrase often used by Theresa May.
“The UK will be outside the European Union but not outside Europe,” Mr Tajani said. “We are working all together for a good Brexit. For us its important to achieve good solutions.”
Mr Tajani’s views could be increasingly important. He has been named as a possible candidate for Italian Prime Minister if a coalition led by Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party tops the polls in next weekend’s Italian election.
Last night, as the British Cabinet were wrapping up their crunch Brexit talks at Chequers, the leaders of 13 EU countries were sitting down for dinner at a chateau on the edge of Brussels.
The informal dinner was hosted by the Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel and among the guests were the EU’s two most powerful leaders, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Among the others in attendance were the leaders of The Netherlands, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Bulgaria and Ireland. The presidents of the European Commission and European Council, Jean-Claude Juncker and Donald Tusk, were not among the guests.
After the dinner, Mr Varadkar, tweeted: “Met up with Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel and other EU colleagues in Brussels last night to talk Brexit and the future of Europe. [The] EU has stood firmly beside Ireland throughout Brexit negotiations.”
The crux of their discussion was a private conversation about potential candidates for senior EU leadership positions which are up for grabs next year, but Brexit was discussed too.
The degree to which the remaining members of the European Union maintain united in their approach to Brexit is key to the outcome of the negotiations.
Some countries, like the Netherlands and Belgium, with closer trade ties to the UK, are concerned about the impact of a hard Brexit on their local economy and may push for a softer Brexit.
While the British Government has yet to explicitly outline the type of Brexit it wants to secure, Mrs May has repeatedly said that she wants a bespoke deal rather than opting for an “off-the-shelf” model like a Canada-style trade deal or a Norway-type relationship.
Under the so-called “three baskets” model, discussed at Chequers, the UK would, post-Brexit, place EU regulations into three baskets.
In basket one, EU regulations would be followed as if the UK were still an EU member.
In basket two, the objectives of EU regulations would be the same, but would be achieved in a different way.
And in basket three, areas where the UK would diverge completely from the EU approach.
Although seen as a possible neat compromise for divided factions of the UK Government, the EU Commission has already said “the ‘three baskets approach’ [is] not compatible with the principles in the European Council guidelines”.
The EU Commission believes that the model breaks the red-lines set by the member states of the EU.
They worry that the autonomy of EU decision-making and the integrity of the single market will be weakened and also that other countries outside the EU will seek similar bespoke arrangements, undermining the whole European Union project.