LONDON – Theresa May will head to Brussels later today for a private meeting with top European Union officials in a last-ditch attempt to break the “deadlock” in Brexit negotiations before the European Council meeting this week.
The prime minister will travel with Brexit Secretary David Davis to have dinner with European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker and the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier.
The trip is part of an effort to push the EU into progressing negotiations onto discussions of Britain’s future relationship with the bloc, despite Juncker and Barnier saying this would not happen last week.
The European Council of EU27 leaders will meet on Thursday to decide whether “sufficient progress” has been made on citizens’ rights, Ireland and the financial settlement in Brexit talks to allow them to advance to the next phase.
Following the fifth round of negotiations last week, Barnier said they were at “deadlock” and that he could not propose to the European Council that talks should be allowed to move onto the future relationship and Juncker said: “This process will take longer than initially thought.”
The UK has so far failed in its attempt to force negotiations to progress, with the EU united that “divorce” issues should be resolved first.
Downing Street insisted that the meeting was planned in advance, but EU sources hinted it might have been more last-minute, and the dinner is not in Juncker’s public diary.
May will hope to end the stalemate over the financial settlement, which has been the biggest stumbling block in negotiations so far.
It will be the first time she has dined with Juncker since their meeting in Downing Street in April when the Commission chief told May she was “deluded” over the progress of Brexit.
The prime minister phoned German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Sunday to request help in progressing Brexit talks, which Germany and France have been staunchly against unless the UK makes a bigger commitment to the financial settlement.
A Downing Street spokesperson said: “They looked ahead to next week’s council, agreeing on the importance of continued constructive progress in the UK’s exit negotiations.”
Last week a leaked European Council paper revealed that trade talks will now almost certainly be delayed until at least Christmas, although member states will begin “preparatory talks” in advance of formal negotiations.
Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson met with eight eastern European foreign ministers on Sunday in a further diplomatic push to advance Brexit talks, in the hope they would break from Germany and France and call for UK-EU trade talks to begin.