British Prime Minister Theresa May and EU chief negotiator Jean-Claude Juncker were all smiles over their Brexit dinner, but both refuse to budge as the talks to smooth the UK exit from Europe are locked in stalemate.
Despite their hugs and kisses at the start of the meal, the cordial mood did not last into the evening as May left Brussels.
“The Prime Minister and the President of the European Commission had a broad, constructive exchange on current European and global challenges,” said a joint statement from May and Juncker.
“They discussed their common interest in preserving the Iran nuclear deal and their work on strengthening the security of citizens in Europe, notably on the fight against terrorism. They also prepared for the European Council that will take place later this week.
Money is the problem
“As regards the Article 50 negotiations, both sides agreed that these issues are being discussed in the framework agreed between the EU27 and the United Kingdom, as set out in Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union.
“The Prime Minister and the President of the European Commission reviewed the progress made in the Article 50 negotiations so far and agreed that these efforts should accelerate over the months to come. The working dinner took place in a constructive and friendly atmosphere.”
The sticking point is money.
The EU is determined to make the UK pay a hefty divorce settlement of around £50 billion into the bloc’s budget for ongoing and future projects that Britain has agreed to fund.
Britain feels the settlement should be much less and refuses to put a number on the amount before the EU agrees to start trade talks.
Brexit is a mess
However, the EU won’t start trade talks without settling the cash terms first.
Any shortfall in Britain’s payment will have to be met from the coffers of the remaining EU countries, which is one reason why they are pressing for as much as they can get.
But May cannot put an offer on the table because she is fearful of losing the support of ministers who are ready to make a challenge for her job.
The whole Brexit program is a mess. The EU surely does not want to see May ousted as prime minister only to start negotiating with a new face that is likely to take a harsher hard-Brexit line.
Sooner or later someone will have to concede ground, and the EU led by France and Germany have a history of appeasement rather than tough-talking, are the favourites to blink first.