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Theresa May and Jean-Claude Juncker's dinner leaked because no-one thinks Brexit will work

The row highlights just how likely "No deal" is.

A damning account of Theresa May and Jean-Claude Juncker's dinner last week in the German newspaper FAZ has made it into English, and it has caused consternation at Westminster.

The highlights, if that is the correct word:

  • David Davis caused an awkward silence when he attempted to use his victory over Theresa May's Home Office at the European Court of Justice as an icebreaker.
  • Juncker became alarmed when he realised that Downing Street still believes that a trade deal can be achieved within the two year time frame of Article 50.
  • The PM believes that the Protocol 36 negotiations - when as Home Secretary, she opted out a raft of measures before picking out the ones she liked and opting in a la carte - are a model for the Brexit talks
  • At the close of the dinner Juncker said he was "10 times more sceptical" about the chances of a successful deal than he was before.

Also causing irritation at the Commission is Downing Street's use of its veto to put the new budget on hold until after the election. The Commission understands that the election puts a limit on what the government can and cannot do, but is frustrated that May's government wants to continue to discuss Brexit - surely a sensitive issue - while also inconveniencing the EU27.

Theresa May described the whole thing as "Brussels gossip" which is Westminster-speak for "you have got me bang to rights". A similar account of the dinner appeared in the Sunday Times, albeit one with a slightly more favourable slant towards our PM.

Is Brexit doomed after all? Much of the reaction to the story here in the UK gives you a pretty good idea why we voted to Leave. A story that appeared in print and in German, translated into English only thanks to the efforts of a few have-a-go translators on Twitter and précised by the Economist's man in Berlin Jeremy Cliffe is analysed through the prism of the message that Juncker - or more likely his chief of staff, Martin Selmayr - is trying to send to Britain.

But - if the fact that the article was written in German wasn't enough of a clue - the real message that is being sent is to Germany. Don't forget that Juncker, Selmayr and the rest of Juncker's retinue are all, like Angela Merkel, members of the European People's Party, the centre-right bloc which David Cameron took the Conservatives out, with damaging consequences for his influence at Brussels.

The leak is sending a message, but it's to German voters: don't blame Angie if the talks end in tears and Germans living and working in Britain see their rights go up in smoke. 

While the Brexit elite misreads the amount of influence that Germany has over the rest of the EU27, they are right to say that while Britain would, by some distance, be the member state other than Ireland who takes the biggest hit from a no-deal Brexit, Germany is next in the firing line.

What the FAZ story reveals is not that the British government isn't prepared for the talks - we knew already that HMG had a 30-year deficit of expertise and personnel to tackle this type of negotiation. It's not that a trade deal can't be done within the two years - we already knew that even simple trade deals are complex affairs and the only ones done quickly are those in which a larger nation or bloc imposes its will and trading conditions on the smaller partner. This is possible but not politically survivable for May. 

It's that our European partners have now realised that the possibility of the hardest of all Brexits is very much on the cards - and are getting their excuses in early. If a hard Brexit does follow, May could live to regret not saying much to British voters beyond "Brexit means Brexit".

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

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After a year of chaos, MPs from all parties are trying to stop an extreme Brexit

The Greens are calling for a cross-party commission on Brexit.

One year ago today, I stood on Westminster Bridge as the sun rose over a changed country. By a narrow margin, on an unexpectedly high turnout, a majority of people in Britain had chosen to leave the EU. It wasn’t easy for those of us on the losing side – especially after such scaremongering from the leaders of the Leave campaign – but 23 June 2016 showed the power of a voting opportunity where every vote counted.

A year on from the vote, and the process is in chaos. Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised. The Leave campaign deliberately never spelled out any detailed plan for Brexit, and senior figures fought internal battles over which model they preferred. One minute Britain would be like Norway, then we’d be like Canada – and then we’d be unique. After the vote Theresa May promised us a "Red, White and Blue Brexit" – and then her ministers kept threatening the EU with walking away with no deal at all which, in fairness, would be unique(ly) reckless. 

We now have our future being negotiated by a government who have just had their majority wiped out. More than half of voters opted for progressive parties at the last election – yet the people representing us in Brussels are the right-wing hardliners David Davis, Liam Fox and Boris Johnson.

Despite widespread opposition, the government has steadfastly refused to unilaterally guarantee EU citizens their rights. This week it has shown its disregard for the environment as it published a Queen’s Speech with no specific plans for environmental protection in the Brexit process either. 

Amid such chaos there is, however, a glimmer of hope. MPs from all parties are working together to stop an extreme Brexit. Labour’s position seems to be softening, and it looks likely that the Scottish Parliament will have a say on the final deal too. The Democratic Unionist Party is regressive in many ways, but there’s a good chance that the government relying on it will soften Brexit for Northern Ireland, at least because of the DUP's insistence on keeping the border with Ireland open. My amendments to the Queen’s speech to give full rights to EU nationals and create an Environmental Protection Act have cross-party support.

With such political instability here at home – and a growing sense among the public that people deserve a final say on any deal - it seems that everything is up for grabs. The government has no mandate for pushing ahead with an extreme Brexit. As the democratic reformers Unlock Democracy said in a recent report “The failure of any party to gain a majority in the recent election has made the need for an inclusive, consensus based working even more imperative.” The referendum should have been the start of a democratic process, not the end of one.

That’s why Greens are calling for a cross-party commission on Brexit, in order to ensure that voices from across the political spectrum are heard in the process. And it’s why we continue to push for a ratification referendum on the final deal negotiated by the government - we want the whole country to have the last word on this, not just the 650 MPs elected to the Parliament via an extremely unrepresentative electoral system.

No one predicted what would happen over the last year. From the referendum, to Theresa May’s disastrous leadership and a progressive majority at a general election. And no one knows exactly what will happen next. But what’s clear is that people across this country should be at the centre of the coming debate over our future – it can’t be stitched up behind closed doors by ministers without a mandate.

Caroline Lucas is the MP for Brighton Pavilion.

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