The European Commission has refused to publish its analysis of Theresa May’s Chequers plan, claiming to do so would risk “jeopardising” a Brexit deal.
The EU’s deputy chief Brexit negotiator, Sabine Weyand, made the prediction in response to a freedom of information request for the secret document made by Yahoo Finance UK.
Her answer suggests the full extent of EU opposition to parts of Chequers may not yet be known and sheds light on the reason for the diplomatic struggle over whether the analysis should be published.
The document delivers a damning verdict on the prime minister’s proposal to effectively keep the UK in the single market for goods, EU sources told the Telegraph in August.
The analysis is said to warn that the central economic policy of Chequers would allow the UK to undercut the EU on services and potentially lead to the break-up of the single market.
The document was due to be published in the days following its presentation to EU officials in July, but it has been kept private after high-level lobbying by the UK government.
The fact the UK government were even aware of the internal EU document so soon after it was presented sparked claims that British secret services were spying on EU negotiators.
The sensitivities over the document’s contents were made clear by Weyand in her response to our freedom of information request, which was rejected.
She writes: “Public disclosure, at this stage, would risk upsetting the negotiations on the very sensitive issue of the Withdrawal Agreement and the framework for the future relationship between the United Kingdom and Europe Union, thus negatively affecting the negotiating stance of the EU and jeopardising the successful outcome of the negotiations.”
Later, she added: “The disclosure of the requested slides could result in misunderstandings of the views of the EU.”
Her comments come amid speculation about whether the Chequers plan remains credible.
European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker used his annual state of the union speech on Wednesday to reject the idea of the UK remaining in the single market for goods.
EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier has said that proposal, along with one for a customs arrangement which would see the UK collect tariffs for the EU, are “unworkable.”
But the EU has been careful not flat out reject the entirety of the Chequers plan, with Barnier stressing there are points of agreement, particularly over security cooperation.
The UK government insist Chequers does not present a threat to the single market and are continuing to push the merits of what they call a “free trade area for goods” in negotiations.
The policy would maintain the free flow of goods and help ensure there is no hard border in Ireland.
Brexit secretary Dominic Raab held a half an hour phone call with Barnier on Friday to review progress made in technical talks between civil servants over future customs arrangements and outstanding withdrawal agreement issues, such as a backstop solution for the Irish border.
Speaking afterwards, Raab said: “While there remain some substantive differences we need to resolve, it is clear our teams are closing in on workable solutions to the outstanding issues in the Withdrawal Agreement, and are having productive discussions in the right spirit on the future relationship.”
Barnier said it was a “useful dialogue” but warned “substantive differences remain” over Ireland and other points of the Withdrawal Agreement, which is currently 80% complete.
Useful dialogue w/ @DominicRaab this morning on the progress our teams have made this week on the #Brexit WA. But substantive differences remain on the Protocol for IE/NI, governance and GIs. We are also continuing our discussions to find common ground on the future relationship.
— Michel Barnier (@MichelBarnier) September 14, 2018
That could mean the deadline for a Brexit deal needs to be pushed back from the European Council on October 18.
EU leaders will discuss whether a special Brexit summit needs to be scheduled for November when they meet in Salzburg next week.