Brexit: Europe wants more clarity from Britain to break deadlock

The Prime Minister sets out plans for a two-year Brexit transition – but some say that there is still too much that is unclear.

Theresa May has been told that more clarity is needed on Britain’s negotiating position to break the deadlock in Brexit talks.

The warning came after the Prime Minister called on European leaders to strike a “bold and ambitious” trade deal with Britain within two years after Brexit.

France’s president Emmanuel Macron called for clarity, saying: “Before we move forward, we want to clarify matters concerning the settlement of European citizens, the financial terms of exit and the question of Ireland.

“If these three points are not clarified, we will not be able to advance on the rest.”

:: Theresa May is positive on Brexit, but still thin on the details

Manfred Weber, a German MEP and close ally of Chancellor Angela Merkel, said: “In substance, PM May is bringing no more clarity to London’s positions.

“I am even more concerned now.”

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said Mrs May’s speech “appeared to be the product of negotiations within the Tory Party rather than negotiations with the EU”.

In a speech billed as the most important of her premiership, Mrs May set out plans on Friday for a two-year “implementation period” after Britain officially leaves in March 2019 – before moving to a permanent trade deal.

She insisted this period would be strictly time limited – and in an attempt to break the deadlock on the “divorce bill”, promised that the UK would “honour its commitments” to the EU budget.

Mrs May did not mention a figure, but her commitment is a clear a hint that the Government would be willing to pay up to €20bn (£17.6bn) into the EU’s budget during this period.

:: Where will Theresa May’s transition bridge lead?

The PM had a difficult balancing act to achieve in her speech, but her address was broadly welcomed by senior Conservatives, with foreign secretary Boris Johnson describing it as “positive, optimistic and dynamic”.

Speaking to business leaders in the city of Florence, the Prime Minister said in her 35-minute address that Brexit would be a “difficult process” but they had a duty to the next generation to agree good terms.

In contrast to her previous rhetoric about Britain being willing to walk away with “no deal”, the PM insisted it was in the interests of all sides, including businesses, that a “smooth and orderly” transition took place to a new relationship.

She said this relationship would be a bespoke arrangement – rejecting the models offered by Norway’s membership of the European Economic Area, as well as Canada’s free trade deal with the EU.

Mrs May added: “The best way for us both to succeed is to fulfill the potential of the partnership I have set out today.

“For we should be in no doubt that if our collective endeavours in these negotiations were to prove insufficient to reach an agreement, it would be a failure in the eyes of history and a damaging blow to the future of our continent.”

Talks in Brussels this summer have stalled mainly over money, but also over the issues of EU citizens’ rights and Northern Ireland, with Brussels’ chief negotiator Michel Barnier warning that no progress can be made on trade until these questions are resolved.

Mrs May insisted that Britain would honour its commitments made in the budget up to 2020, saying that none of the other countries would “need to pay more or receive less… as a result of our decision to leave”.

Her speech, which will be seen as a direct appeal to national leaders over the heads of the European Commission, called for the EU to strike an “ambitious economic partnership” with Britain in their national interests.

In the first part of her speech, the PM acknowledged that “for many this is an exciting time full of promise, for others it is a worrying one” but said she felt “optimistic” about the future.

The address was eagerly anticipated in Brussels, where senior figures have voiced complaints that Britain has not set out enough of its strategy, and at home where she will need to satisfy all factions within her party.

It contained a new offer to EU citizens living in the UK that their rights would be enshrined in the final Brexit treaty, so that the British courts are directly bound by the agreement.

In another concession, she added that European Court of Justice case law could be taken into account in these cases, in order to assuage concerns that the UK Parliament might seek to dilute their rights in future.

Mrs May, in a direct message to Europeans living in the UK, said: “We want you to stay, we value you and we thank you for your contribution to our national life. And it has been – and remains – one of my first goals in this negotiation to ensure that you can carry on living your lives as before.”

The tone of the speech was conciliatory, with Mrs May telling other EU countries that Britain wanted to be their “strongest friend and partner” after Brexit, and work together on crucial security issues such as trafficking and terrorism.

The PM said: “I believe we share a profound sense of responsibility to make this change work smoothly and sensibly, not just for people today but for the next generation who will inherit the world we leave them.

“The eyes of the world are on us but if we can be imaginative and creative about the way we establish this new relationship… I believe we can be optimistic about the future we can build for the United Kingdom and for the European Union.”

Mrs May reflected on the fact that Britain “has never totally felt at home being in the European Union”, but said it would remain “a proud member of the family of European nations”.

She said: “The British people have decided to leave the EU and to be a global trading nation, able to chart our own way in the world.

“I look ahead with optimism, believing that if we use this moment to change not just our relationship with Europe but also the way we do things at home – this will be a defining moment in the history of our nation.”

Bigger threats from President Trump benefit Kim Jong Un

As I moved in to my Washington flat at the start of a year covering events here for Sky News, the phone-in on one of the many local radio stations made for uncomfortable listening.

The question was: should President Trump bomb North Korea? And the answer I heard from a number of callers was all too clear: yes.

The Trump rhetoric – threatening fire and fury never seen before – may play well with his core support. But curiously, it also plays straight into the hands of the North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

The cult status of the Kim dynasty is built on the myth that its single most important role is defending the motherland from a menacing and all-powerful foreign enemy – aka the United States.

The bigger the threat – and one thing Mr Trump excels at is threatening big – the better it is for Kim Jong Un, who knows his very survival rests on being the anointed defender of the Korean people.

It has always been thus. Way back in 1992 I managed to get into North Korea, which was then led by the current leader’s grandfather Kim Il Sung, to secretly film a series of reports.

I attended a rally where the ageing dictator invoked the threat of American invasion to unite his audience and the wider country.

It’s astounding. It seems you can let half the population starve, consign millions more to poverty and deprive the rest of the people of any sort of political freedom – and yet if you persuade them that you’re the Great Leader ensuring their glorious destiny and protecting them from the evil influence of foreign powers, then all will be well.

Even in those days, by the way, the race to build nuclear weapons was on. It was seen then, as it is now, as the best way to ensure the survival of the regime. And that is everything. It is all that matters.

:: North Korea ‘moving missile to west coast’

To Donald Trump perhaps – and certainly to his base support – the military solution sounds good. The problem is that every possible military option is bad. Some less bad than others, but all are bad.

The option most talked about is the preventative strike – a crushing, overwhelming attack to take out the nuclear weapons, eliminate the threat once and for all, destroy the country’s military and remove Kim Jong Un from power.

Tempting perhaps, and in some sort of fantasy Hollywood world it may work. But in the real world it is utter madness. Such an assault is unthinkable because it would essentially unleash mass slaughter across the Korean peninsula.

Even without his nuclear weapons, the Kim regime has a huge conventional arsenal, chemical and biological weapons and a million man ground army.

An American attempt to crush North Korea – even, and this is highly unlikely, one carried out with an element of surprise – would almost certainly lead to hundreds of thousands of deaths, many of those in the South, which would come under sustained attack within minutes.

It would be catastrophic at best. And at worst it may lead to the very thing it is designed to prevent: a nuclear conflict.

Another much talked about possibility is the so-called “warning strike”, a punch on the nose that would be punitive enough to slow the nuclear programme but not so devastating as to guarantee a response from Kim.

All very appealing on the face of it. The most likely target under this scenario would be one of his nuclear sites such as the reactor at Yongbyon, which produces plutonium.

There are several problems. An attack on nuclear sites may release radioactive material which could be disastrous.

But more worrying still is that a limited strike may not be interpreted as that. And once the shooting starts it is very difficult to gauge where it will end.

A limited operation may well turn into a protracted and costly one. Miscalculation or misunderstanding have triggered many full-scale conflicts.

A third option is targeting the North Korean leadership. This is often called the “decapitation” strategy. US and South Korean troops have taken part in exercises for just such a strike.

Again, there are problems. It would be hugely difficult to pull off, would require inside help that almost certainly doesn’t exist, and if you bumped off Kim Jong Un who would replace him? They may be much worse.

And here lies the slither of hope in all this. Kim Jong Un is clearly a jumped-up narcissist, with strange habits and a terrible haircut. But he’s not crazy.

Indeed it could be said he is winning this high-stakes game of poker. His nuclear programme may not be all he says it is, but it has clearly come on in strides since he took over.

The evidence is that he is not seeking a military confrontation but is rather coveting the H-bomb as a means of long-term survival.

The key in all this is China. It does not want a nuclear-armed North Korea, but even less does it want the Korean regime destroyed. It’s afraid that would lead to a Korean peninsula under the firmer grip of the Americans. And US forces on its border is not something it would welcome at all.

:: Katie Stallard – Military action in North Korea is risky

So there is a chance that if China really does fear a conflict that could lead to the Kim regime being swept away, it may just put real pressure on Pyongyang to step back.

It’s possible. So perhaps, after all, Donald Trump is right to talk of a massive military response?

As long as it is only talk.