Theresa May rejects offer of 2 more weeks of Brexit talks despite calling for negotiations to accelerate

  • Exclusive: The UK government has turned down two weeks’ worth of Brexit negotiating time, despite calling for talks to accelerate.
  • Theresa May said last week that she wants talks to increase in “pace and intensity” after the UK and EU failed to make significant progress at the most recent European Council summit.
  • However, talks will not start again until Monday, July 16, because the UK is “not available” until then, a senior EU source has told Business Insider.
  • The government will instead spend today at May’s official retreat in Chequers negotiating with each other on Brexit.
  • Labour described the government’s decision not to spend this week and next in Brexit talks with the EU as “deeply disturbing.”

LONDON – Theresa May’s government turned down requests by the EU to resume Brexit negotiations both this week and next, despite publicly calling for negotiations to accelerate, a senior EU source has told Business Insider.

With just a few months to go until the end of planned negotiations, Prime Minister May told last week’s European Council summit that she wanted Brexit negotiations to increase in “pace and intensity” to prevent Britain leaving the EU without a deal.

Michel Barnier, the European Union’s chief Brexit negotiator, also told reporters at the summit that more talks were needed to close the “huge, serious divergences” in negotiations.

After failing to make a breakthrough, EU negotiators offered to resume talks with the UK either this week or next, but were told that British negotiators were “not available” until July 16, some two weeks later.

The EU negotiating team has been frustrated by the reluctance of May’s government to engage, with one senior source telling Business Insider that EU negotiators had met with Brexit Secretary Davis Davis just three times in 2018 – twice at the EU’s base in Brussels, and once in London.

In total, Davis has engaged in just four hours of negotiations with his Brussels counterparts this year, the Financial Times revealed.

The UK Labour party urged the government to re-engage in the talks.

Shadow Brexit Minister Matthew Pennycook told Business Insider that the government should “get back around the negotiating table as soon as possible” adding that “if these reports are accurate, then this is a deeply disturbing decision by the Government.”

“The clock is ticking on the Article 50 process and the continued uncertainty is putting jobs and the economy at risk.”

Chris Leslie, Labour MP and supporter of the People’s Vote campaign, told BI: “Theresa May doesn’t have time to negotiate with the EU because she is too busy negotiating with her Cabinet.

“With ministers at war with one another, and Parliament paralysed by indecision and infighting, it is clear we going to end up with a bad deal that will satisfy nobody.”

A spokesperson for the Department for Exiting the EU insisted that the UK was “making good progress” in negotiations, and added: “We are confident that we are well on the way to achieving the new partnership we want with the EU.”

The official added: “The White Paper, which will be published shortly, will continue to drive this process forward and intensify the negotiations.”

Both sides want to agree on a withdrawal deal before the European Council’s October summit. Taking into account the UK Parliament’s summer holidays and other factors, this means just weeks remain for negotiations.

Theresa MayWPA Pool/Getty

The news comes as Prime Minister May heads to her official country retreat of Chequers to engage in internal talks with her Cabinet. Ministers are expected to talk until late on Friday evening as they struggle to agree on the future of Britain’s customs relationship with the EU.

The prime minister is set to present a Brexit policy based on an updated version of her preferred “new customs partnership,” plus full alignment with the single market for goods, according to multiple reports.

The EU rejected the former when it was first revealed earlier this year and last week a source in the European Commission told BI that Britain will not be allowed to retain full single market access for goods alone.

Barnier will give a speech at around 11:30 a.m. London time on Friday morning, in which he is expected to discuss the current state of Brexit negotiations and outline the EU’s position heading into the final months of talks.

He is also set to reveal new “slides” to build on those revealed in his “Stairway to Brexit” presentation late last year.

The original presentation said that May’s red lines on the single market, customs union, and European Court of Justice meant that a free trade deal like that between the EU and Canada was the best deal Britain could expect.

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