The good news on the Brexit front has just kept coming all week; it’s hard to know where to start.
On Tuesday, Bloomberg reported on a draft paper being prepared by the German Foreign Ministry on future UK-EU relations, including setting out the desire for a comprehensive free-trade agreement. This was followed on Thursday by an announcement from Sweden’s Trade Minister Ann Linde that the Swedish government is also looking at important sectors of trade in goods and services between Sweden and the UK, and is drawing up a basis for Swedish trade interests in the EU negotiations.
I have always been confident that EU countries were already looking to the future of their post-Brexit relationship with the UK, and it is great to see that this is certainly the case. It is absolutely in the interests of the EU27 to be thinking ahead to what a comprehensive free-trade agreement will look like with us, and it seems that the other member states are readying to move onto the next phase of talks. Indeed, Angela Merkel has on Friday confirmed that she is very clear that she wants an agreement with the UK, and that the EU is working with us to achieve this. As she said, “I believe, in contrast to the way things are portrayed in the British press, that things are progressing step by step.”
We’ve also heard Donald Tusk, President of the European Council, say that reports of a deadlock in Brexit talks between the UK and the EU have been "exaggerated”. He also said on Friday morning that the EU27 leaders have given the green-light to start their own discussions about preparations for the second phase of the negotiations, paving the way for the start of formal discussions on future UK-EU trade by the end of the year. The President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, has said that he is “not in favour of no deal” and that he wants “to have a fair deal with Britain”.
This positivity from the EU comes, of course, after our Government has made absolutely clear that we are making preparations for the scenario of a no-deal Brexit, and that we are taking our responsibilities in that situation seriously. I am pleased that it has galvanised EU leaders into making some progress, but preparations will continue for both a deal and a no-deal outcome from the Article 50 process.
As for the UK, the Prime Minister has spoken in Brussels about her vision for a new, deep and special partnership between the UK and the EU after Brexit. The Government will be bringing the EU (Withdrawal) Bill back to the House after we have looked carefully at the 300+ amendments and 54 new clauses that have been put forward to ensure that the responses will be well thought through. When the Bill returns to the Commons for a response and for the debate, we will have eight days of debate with eight protected hours on each day. There is no specific timeframe for a Committee of the whole House to take place following Second Reading and, given that this is a large constitutional Bill, the Government is looking carefully at the many points that have been raised.
As I look back at the news this week, Michael Deacon's Parliamentary Sketch in the Telegraph comes to mind… Yes, I am “so pleased” and yes, I am “so very delighted!”. The optimistic and positive news coming from the EU27 as they prepare for a post-Brexit free-trade agreement with the UK is most welcome, and I look forward to more of the same in the coming weeks.