The EU parliament looks set to declare that there is no “sufficient progress” in the negotiations just as the PM takes to the podium to deliver her keynote address in Manchester.
Today David Davis and Michel Barnier struck a much more upbeat tone about the ongoing divorce talks, with both men saying progress had been made even though more work remains to be done.
But MEPs’ crudely engineered publicity stunt could sour that feel good factor, seemingly being timed deliberately to cause the prime minister maximum embarrassment at her own party’s gathering.
Ukip MEP Joanthan Arnott described the move as a “calculated slap in the face to UK” and said the vote had been brought forward 24 hours to make sure it could be squeezed in before the PM’s speech “despite criticism” from some quarters.
A draft agenda for the EU Parliament shows the full chamber is set to vote on the “State of play of negotiations with the United Kingdom” on Wednesday, October 4 at around noon Brussels time, 11am British time.
Mrs May is set to give her keynote address to the Tory party conference around an hour later, at 12.30pm British time, meaning delegates will have had just enough time to digest the result of the vote.
The agenda could be changed, but if it stays the same MEPs will vote on a draft resolution, compiled by the EU’s Brexit coordinator Guy Verhofstadt and his steering group, which contains a number of scathing criticism of UK negotiators.
It states the parliament “is of the opinion that in the fourth round of negotiations sufficient progress has not yet been made on citizens’ rights, Ireland and the Northern Ireland, and the settlement of the UK’s financial obligations”.
The resolution also “calls on the European Council, unless there is a major breakthrough in line with this resolution in all three areas during the fifth negotiation round, to decide at its October meeting to postpone its assessment on whether sufficient progress has been made”.
Mr Barnier and Mr Davis and their teams are set to meet for one more round of negotiations, in mid-October, before a meeting of the EU27 at the end of the month at which an update on the Brexit talks will be delivered.
The Frenchman is expected to recommend that there is no sufficient progress yet but that steps are being made. EU Council chief Donald Tusk said the same thing following a meeting with Mrs May in Downing Street earlier this week.
However, the EU’s chief negotiator was notably more upbeat about the talks during today’s press conference than at the end of previous rounds, saying the PM’s speech in Florence had created a “new dynamic”.
Observers noted that Mr Barnier used much more sympathetic language towards the UK and threw in several glowing references Mrs May – seemingly a diplomatic attempt to give her a boost before a Tory conference at which some disgruntled hard Brexiteers may attempt to cause mischief.
In contrast to that tone the resolution to be put before the EU parliament, which is the most hardline of all the bloc’s institutions, is more scathing in its assessment of Britain’s efforts to date.
On citizens’ rights, it says that MEPs are “of the opinion that the United Kingdom’s proposals falls short in that respect, not least as regards the proposal to create a new category of ‘settled status’ under UK immigration law”.
It also “expresses concern about regrettable administrative practices against EU citizens living in the United Kingdom” – a reference to deportation letters mistakenly sent out to European nationals.
On the Brexit bill, the resolution “underlines so far the absence of any clear proposals has seriously impeded the negations and that substantial progress in that area is required”.
And on Ireland it contains implicit criticism of the Government’s plans for a seamless border after Brexit, drily observing that this appears to “presume that the UK stays in the internal market and customs union or that Northern Ireland stays in some form in the internal market and customs union”.
Sufficient progress is on the three key divorce issues – citizens’ rights, the financial settlement and Ireland – is required before talks can move onto trade. It is exclusively down to the EU Council of 27 member states to deem when this has been achieved, although the EU Parliament will have a veto on the final deal reached between Britain and the EU.