Theresa May risked the wrath of Brexiteers today by hinting the transition period could last longer than two years – as a bitter standoff threatened to throw negotiations into turmoil.
The Prime Minister told Brussels the ‘ball is in your court’ and urged the EU to help forge a ‘dynamic, creative and unique’ relationship as she dismissed the prospect of further concessions before trade talks begin.
But she also suggested the two year ‘implementation’ period outlined in her Florence speech could be extended.
‘How long the period is should be determined simply by how long it will take to prepare and implement the new systems we need,’ she told MPs in a statement.
‘As of today, these considerations point to an implementation period of around two years.’
Boris Johnson has previously insisted the transition period should be ‘not a second more’ than two years.
The intervention came as the latest round of Brexit talks began in Belgium. But Eurocrats have hit back at Mrs May’s jibe about the need for them to climb down, insisting that the ‘ball is entirely in the UK court’.
Brexit Secretary David Davis has been accused of being a ‘part time negotiator’ after it emerged he is not travelling to Belgium for the start of talks today.
Theresa May demanded ‘flexibility’ from the EU today as she updated MPs on progress in talks
The Prime Minister told Brussels the ‘ball is in your court’ and urged the EU to help forge a ‘dynamic, creative and unique’ relationship as she dismissed the prospect of further concessions before trade talks begin
Boris Johnson has previously insisted the transition period should be ‘not a second more’ than two years
Aides said the discussion would be ‘technical’ and he is expected to meet opposite number Michel Barnier there tomorrow.
Mrs May told the Commons it was the government’s ‘duty’ to make preparations for ‘every eventuality’ – including no deal being reached.
‘That is exactly what we are doing,’ she said.
The tougher stance on ‘no deal’ emerged as pressure grows on Tory benches for Britain to defy EU demands to give ground on money and citizens’ rights.
Mrs May is attempting to move on from her cursed Conservative conference – which was followed by a half-hearted coup attempt.
She insisted the government can secure a deal to prove the Brexit ‘doomsayers’ wrong.
European leaders are set to decide next week whether sufficient progress has been made in the first phase to move on to talks on trade and a potential ‘implementation period’ for the new arrangements.
But the prospects of getting the green light appear very slim. Even before Mrs May had made her statement to MPs, commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas told a press conference in Brussels: ‘This is not exactly a ball game… but what I can remind you of is there is a clear sequencing to these talks and there has been so far no solution found on step one, which is the divorce proceedings.
‘So the ball is entirely in the UK court for the rest to happen.’
EU Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker has said it will take ‘miracles’, while the European Parliament overwhelmingly passed a motion last week saying more needed to be done.
A Danish minister today warned the EU against playing ‘games’ by blocking trade talks, saying it was not ‘rocket science’ to strike an agreement between the two sides.
Kristian Jensen told the Guardian: ‘In any political negotiations, there is not enough time, not enough money, not enough this, not enough that.
‘This is part of the game. Because what we are dealing with here is not rocket science.
‘We are not speaking about putting a man on Mars or solving the problem of CO2 emissions.
‘We are now on the same page … In my view it is rather important we get into a more close and more speedy process on concluding some of the issues.’
Meanwhile, senior Tory backbencher Bernard Jenkin urged Mrs May to ‘dig’ in and defy the EU.
‘They are just stringing us along and there comes a point when you have to dig in,’ he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
Delivering a statement to MPs, Mrs May (pictured today) attempted to move on from her cursed Conservative conference – which was followed by a half-hearted coup attempt
The negotiation teams from the UK and EU, led by David Davis (left) and Michel Barnier, are renewing battle in Brussels this afternoon.
A spokesman for the Brexit Secretary confirmed Mr Davis will not be in Brussels today, but said it was ‘not unusual’ for him to go after his civil servants, who will hold technical negotiations in his absence.
Mr Davis is expected to be on the front bench of the House of Commons this afternoon to listen to Theresa May deliver her update on Brexit talks to fellow MPs.
Labour MP Peter Kyle said: ‘Theresa May says the ball is in the EU’s court, yet David Davis can’t even be bothered to pick up his racket.
‘Britain deserves much better than a part-time negotiator. The clock is ticking, the time left to negotiate is finite, and every day of fruitless talks takes us closer to a destructive Brexit with no deal at all.
CLEGG SAYS BREXIT PROCESS CAN STILL BE STOPPED
The Lib Dem former leader, an avid Remainer, said voters should demand their MPs oppose any deal the government strikes.
‘In almost exactly a year’s time, there will be an absolute crunch vote on Brexit when David Davis and Theresa May present whatever threadbare deal they’ve managed to cobble together to MPs,’ he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
‘At that point, MPs need to decide a simple thing: does what they have before them, presented to them by David Davis and Theresa May, measure up in any respect to the numerous, utopian promises made to their constituents by Brexiteers?
‘If they don’t, MPs are duty bound, regardless of whether they are in favour of remain or Brexit, to reject that deal, because it won’t in any way conform to the expectations raised by the Brexiteers in the first place.’
‘David Davis needs to pull his socks up, get on the Eurostar, and negotiate for Britain rather than posture in London.’
Mrs May appeared before MPs to update them on her speech in Florence last month, which made significant concessions in a bid to secure a breakthrough.
She said: ‘A new, deep and special partnership between a sovereign United Kingdom and a strong and successful European Union is our ambition and our offer to our European friends.
‘Achieving that partnership will require leadership and flexibility, not just from us but from our friends, the 27 nations of the EU.
‘And as we look forward to the next stage, the ball is in their court. But I am optimistic we will receive a positive response.
‘Because what we are seeking is not just the best possible deal for us – but also the best possible deal for our European friends too.’
She acknowledged that ‘progress will not always be smooth’ but sought to strike a positive note about the Brexit process.
‘By approaching these negotiations in a constructive way – in a spirit of friendship and co-operation and with our sights firmly set on the future – I believe we can prove the doomsayers wrong,’ she will say.
‘I believe we can seize the opportunities of this defining moment in the history of our nation.’
The Prime Minister will also attempt to reassure business leaders that the Brexit process is on track as she hosts a meeting with leading industry figures on Monday.
She will be joined by senior colleagues including Chancellor Philip Hammond and Brexit Secretary David Davis at the meeting in Downing Street
Representatives from firms including Aston Martin, HSBC, Morgan Stanley and Vodafone will be among those attending the meeting of the Business Advisory Council.
The meeting follows warnings from RBS chairman Sir Howard Davies that the damage to the City from Brexit is ‘going to be quite considerable over time’.
And it comes as the British Retail Consortium warns that consumers could face rising prices and slower deliveries unless non-graduate EU migrants are able to continue working in the sector after Brexit.
The negotiations are entering the fifth round, with a decision due on whether they can progress to issues of future trade
EU commission president Jean-Claude Juncker has said it would take ‘miracles’ for the talks to progress to cover trade this month