No mercy from Merkel

Angus Walker

Former ITV News Correspondent

Angela Merkel may be stepping down as leader of her party but she’s still got massive influence over the European Union. Credit: AP

Last night Theresa May said Brexit talks on a divorce deal were now in the “endgame”.

Today in Strasbourg, the final whistle could be blown.

MEPs will hear from the de-facto leader of Europe, German Chancellor Angela Merkel. She may be stepping down as leader of her party but she’s still got massive influence over the European Union.

She’ll be outlining her vision of the EU’s future. A future without the UK. She’s bound to touch on Brexit and her words could heighten the fears that exist of a no-deal Brexit.

Since the referendum Mrs Merkel has been remarkably strict.

Far from wanting to offer the UK concessions and an easy route to the exit door, she’s urged her fellow leaders to stand firm and, above all, protect the integrity of the EU’s single market and customs union.

She puts European unity way above any sympathy for her counterpart in Downing Street.

For months we’ve heard about ticking clocks, deadlines and that a deal is almost there, so, surprise, surprise, as the negotiators chew over the small print, there’s another “crunch” moment.

Withdrawal deal documents would need to be put in front of the UK cabinet before tomorrow latest, and signed off, before there could be any chance of an EU Summit to seal a deal in November.

That timing is based on the UK’s parliamentary timetable - if the Prime Minister wants a vote in the commons before Christmas then the EU would have to agree on the terms before the end of this month. An EU diplomat told me yesterday, with a sense of some concern, that at a meeting of European ministers in Brussels, it was decided not to push things forward until the British cabinet had agreed.

Such was the worry about the “fragile” state of the UK government.

The UK is set to leave the European Union on 29 March 2019. Credit: PA

So we wait and the main reason why a November summit is looking like it may not happen is if the documents, all 500 pages, are signed off and sent back from Downing Street with a smile, then some of the 27 EU states have asked for two weeks to have a good look through, line by line.

That takes us to the end of the month. Barring any objections.

Plus requests have been made for the deal, with all its dense legalese, to be translated into other languages.

That’s only going to add to the delay and to the risk of misinterpretation.

Michel Barnier will be briefing European diplomats on Tuesday. Credit: AP

The EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier will also be in Strasbourg today.

He’ll be briefing European Commissioners on the talks - hoping to maintain the radio silence while the UK Prime Minister decides when and if to move.

With talks and tactics perched so precariously, no wonder the EU commissioners will also be once again considering no-deal contingency plans.

The item on their agenda is called “emergency response plans” - which sums up the situation in Strasbourg quite nicely.