POLITICS
20/10/2017 15:54 BST | Updated 20/10/2017 18:19 BST

Brexit Briefing: Brussels Gives An Inch

Brexit talks are now more peace summit than war council

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 1) May’s Cunning Plan Of Dialling Down The Aggression Seems To Be Working.

At times these Brexit talks have felt like a rather vanilla reenactment of World War 1: Britain and the great European powers meet in Belgium for a scrap, but seem to spend more time digging down than moving forward.

And today, to misquote Blackadder Goes Forth, Theresa May undertook a gargantuan effort and moved her drinks cabinet six inches closer to a deal.

Bloomberg via Getty Images
Progress, but not the breakthrough May would have hoped for when she gave her Florence speech last month

And it was a matter of diplomatic inches, as the EU27 agreed to begin preparing for discussions about trade rather trade discussions themselves.

It was not the breakthrough May would have hoped for when she gave her Florence speech last month, and while there has been no formal announcement of when the trade talks will begin – although December has been repeatedly flagged up by the EU - it is progress.

In a press conference on Friday morning, May didn’t try to overstate the significance of the announcement, acknowledging the Brexit talks “still have someway to go”, but she will be pleased to return from Brussels with at least something to show for her trip – besides this picture of her staring forlornly at a row of pot plants.

GEERT VANDEN WIJNGAERT via Getty Images

2) Tusk And Juncker Are Getting Pretty Good At Their ‘Good Bureaucrat/Bad Bureaucrat’ Routine. 

Dario Pignatelli / Reuters

Judging from Donald Tusk and Jean-Claude Juncker’s press conference today, the Brexit talks are now more peace summit than war council.

Tusk went out of his way to say he wanted to create a “good atmosphere” and “positive mood” and: “While progress has not been sufficient, it doesn’t mean there has been no progress at all.”

He even gave a slapdown to EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier, saying: “The reports of the deadlock between the EU and the UK has been exaggerated.”

Juncker wasn’t quite as full of peace, love and understanding as Tusk, telling the press that whereas Barnier used the word “deadlock” over the financial settlement three times last week, he would have used it four.

Juncker also said “I hate the no deal scenario” – later saying while he understood what it means from an EU point of view, he doesn’t know what the UK mean by it.

This is similar to how the UK don’t know what the EU will deem as “sufficient progress” in the phase one talks - despite agreeing on day one of the negotiations to use this as a measure of success or failure.

In a separate press conference, French president Emmanuel Macron said went as far as dismissing no deal as “fake news”.

It seems that Theresa May’s switch in rhetoric towards the EU is paying off. Gone are the days of accusing Brussels of using threats to influence British politics, and the new overtures of wanting to help our European friends – particularly with money – is helping to make headway.

3) Hold On...Does Macron Only Love Us For Our Money?

JOHN THYS via Getty Images

Macron let le chat sorti du sac during his post-match press conference.

He claimed the two sides are “not halfway there” on the financial bill, despite Theresa May’s vow in Florence that the UK would not leave a hole in the current EU budget.

With analysts suggesting that was a commitment to hand over €20billion to Brussels, it seems the French President wants over €20billion before the trade talks can begin.

In her own press conference, May didn’t rule out committing to pay more than €20billion in the divorce bill.

She repeated David Davis’ mantra of examining the EU’s financial demands “line by line” but reiterated her Florence position: “Nobody need be concerned for the current Budget plan, that they would have to either pay in more or receive less,” she said.

“We will honour our commitments made during our membership.”

For Brexiteers, all this talk about the money merely reinforces what they have always believed. For all the EU’s talk about citizens’ rights and keeping the peace about the continent, it’s actually the money they care about.

Davis did little to knock down that view in the Commons on Monday, telling MPs: “They are using time pressure to get more money out of us. Bluntly, that is what’s going on. It’s obvious to anybody.”

4) Frankfurt Is Winning The Race To Be The New London

Juergen Sack via Getty Images

Frankfurt has long been touted as the city most likely to benefit from any post-Brexit banking boom on the continent.

The German city is already home to its own country’s Central Bank, the European Central Bank, and hundreds of commercial banks.

Morgan Stanley has chosen Frankfurt as the home for its post-Brexit EU hub, and this week another big name confirmed a move to Germany was on the cards.

Goldman Sachs chief Lloyd Blankfein posted a rare tweet (he has only used his Twitter account 20 times since 2011) to confirm his bank’s post-Brexit plans:

“Just left Frankfurt. Great meetings, great weather, really enjoyed it. Good, because I’ll be spending a lot more time there. #Brexit”

The message comes just weeks after Goldman Sachs announced it was leasing office space in Frankfurt large enough for 1,000 workers as part of its “Brexit contingency plan”. 

According to the BBC, this plan includes adding hundreds of staff to its hubs in Paris and Frankfurt so it can continue to work with EU-based customers following Brexit, regardless of the outcome of negotiations.  

This would reportedly involve hiring new European staff and moving UK staff over to the continent.  

The investment bank’s chief executive Richard Gnodde told the news outlet in July: “We will maintain a very significant presence in London.

“But if the rules require us to have more on the continent we will have more on the continent,” he added. 

The announcement is clearly good news for Frankfurt, which is seeking to shake the reputation that it’s not quite as dynamic and metropolitan as other European cities such as Madrid and Paris.

With all the talk of new tariffs and customs processes in the case of no deal, this development is a timely reminder that one of the true jewels in the UK’s economic crown is already being lured away.

5) Perhaps People Can Eat All That Extra Sovereignty They’re Going To Have? 

HowardOates via Getty Images

While the EU are closing their eyes to the possibility of no deal, other organisations are very much looking into the consequences of the Brexit talks breaking down. 

The Resolution Foundation put out a report this week looking at how families across the country would be impacted by the sudden imposition of tariffs with our closest trading partner – and the poorest are set to be the worse affected.  

According to the research the UK’s least well off  families will see their cost of living rise by at least £500-a-year.

Reverting to World Trade Organisation tariffs would see the average price of dairy goods rising by 8.1 per cent, meat products by 5.8 per cent and transport vehicles by 5.5 per cent.

The report, carried out with academics at Sussex University, claims the average household would be stung to the tune of £260.

The same day as the Resolution Foundation published its report, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) claimed reversing Brexit would give a boost to the UK economy and tackle the predicted sluggish 1% growth.

Don’t Get Angry, Get Blogging…

At HuffPost we love a good blog, and here are the finest Brexit-penned entries from this week. Have a read, and if any of them provoke an urge in you to speak your brain, send a blog to ukblogteam@huffingtonpost.com and you could find yourself in this very newsletter.

Axel Antoni on why May’s letter to EU nationals is “not news” 

Eloise Todd on the “Brexit news making Theresa May panic” 

Will Hingley on how Brexit is distracting us from solving climate change 

Jonathan Arnott on how we are “sleep-walking” into a no-deal Brexit