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29 June 2018

With a migration deal agreed, the EU summit appears a success for everyone but Theresa May

Leader after leader criticised the British government’s internal divisions and the Prime Minister’s inability to say exactly what it wants for Brexit.

By Patrick Maguire

Thursday, Friday, happy days. Unless you’re Theresa May, that is. While EU leaders at the European Council summit in Brussels have hailed a last-minute deal to resolve their differences on migration, the Prime Minister’s efforts to make even the tiniest bit of progress on Brexit have come to nought.

After a marathon session that ended just before 5am this morning, there is finally some agreement on the issue that has defined the summit instead of Brexit. Refugees and migrants rescued in the Mediterranean will be sent to processing centres across the EU to ease the pressure on Italy and Greece, but crucially, participation will be voluntary – a sop to anti-migration leaders in Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic, who oppose mandatory refugee quotas.

Angela Merkel admits the deal isn’t the finished article but it has convinced Guiseppe Conte, the Italian prime minister, who some feared would veto anything and everything. Unsurprisingly, Merkel and Macron are on chipper form this morning, though it isn’t yet clear whether the deal will be enough to satisfy the German chancellor’s restive coalition partners and save her embattled premiership.

But even if the compromise is ultimately a crack-papering exercise, it reflects the resolve of the EU27, and Merkel in particular, to keep the bloc united. What does it mean for Theresa May and Brexit?

The obvious consequence was that there was very little time to talk about Brexit. That, of course, was expected. But the mood music was terrible: leader after leader criticised the government’s internal divisions and May’s inability to say exactly what it wants. The Times splashes on her vain attempt to shift the summit onto territory where Britain notionally has the upper hand – security – by warning that the EU is putting lives at risk by restricting cooperation after Brexit.

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Europe recognises the importance of security cooperation with the UK but thinks interventions such as this are essentially an attempt to blackmail them into giving Britain a good deal on other issues. “It isn’t a card they can play to their advantage,” one diplomat flatly told me earlier this week, “because everyone, including Britain, loses if they do.”

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The frequency with which Britain nonetheless tries to reflect the lack of a plan that doesn’t involve some form of the cherry-picking that the EU has been clear it won’t accept. Sources close to Michel Barnier tell Business Insider that the likely May compromise of asking to staying in the single market for goods alone will be rejected. Leo Varadkar, the taoiseach, is right to say one of her red lines is going to give before any progress can be made.

But as ever, the Prime Minister can’t say anything that will do that because of the divisions with her party. Nothing she says to the EU27 instead, including on security, can compensate for that. As they meet to discuss Brexit without her today, they are probably better served listening to Danny Dyer.