Britain’s chief negotiator David Frost and his EU counterpart, Michel Barnier, dined at Number 10 Downing Street last night. Government officials stressed they did not have in-depth discussions during the meal, but would do so with the rest of their teams in the coming days. As he arrived in London, Mr Barnier told No 10 this week’s Brexit talks will be “decisive”.
Last week’s round was cut short with both sides saying that, while they wanted an agreement, they had yet to overcome the gulf in positions that could see Britain leaving a status-quo transition period at the end of this year without a trade deal.
After leaving the EU in January, Britain is keen to strike out alone, pursuing trade deals with other countries and setting up its own sanctions regime, and has insisted it should not have to sign up to the bloc’s standards.
Sticking points between the two sides also include fishing rules and the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland.
As no deal looks increasingly likely, unearthed reports reveal how First Minister Nicola Sturgeon thought the Prime Minister had paved the way for a “soft” Brexit in 2018.
Two years ago, Mr Johnson became the second senior cabinet minister to quit within 24 hours, as former Prime Minister Theresa May faced a growing political crisis over her Brexit strategy.
In a resignation letter, the now Prime Minister said Mrs May was leading the UK into a “semi-Brexit” with the “status of a colony”.
Former Brexit Secretary David Davis also resigned, saying he did not support the Brexit plan agreed by ministers: the Chequers’ plan.
That day arguably marked the end of Mrs May’s premiership, paving the way for Mr Johnson’s victory a year later and then Brexit.
In a column for The Scotsman, though, Ms Sturgeon completely misread the situation, arguing the former Foreign Secretary’s resignation was going to help in her fight against Brexit.
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“I have been consistent in saying that I do not want to leave the EU, in line with what people in Scotland voted for, but if the UK is to leave then the least worst outcome is one that keeps us in a single market which is around eight times bigger than the UK market alone.
“That is supported by practically all mainstream economic analysis. And it is significant that in recent days we have started to see more and more businesses speak out about the very real threat which Brexit poses to jobs, investment and living standards right across the UK.”
The SNP leader concluded: “There is now a chance, I believe, that the events of this week will help pave the way for the least damaging Brexit.
“That was not the intention of David Davis or Boris Johnson in resigning, but it may yet be their legacy.”
At the December 12 general election, Mr Johnson secured a crushing victory and is now one of the most popular Prime Ministers since Margaret Thatcher.