Theresa May is expected on Monday to tell other EU countries that the “ball is in their court” in the Brexit negotiations, as she pushes to make progress in talks that have been deadlocked.
Mrs May will challenge the other 27 EU members in a statement to the House of Commons just as UK and EU negotiators in Brussels are scheduled to begin a fifth round of negotiations over the terms of the UK’s departure from the bloc.
Business has become particularly frustrated by the slow pace of discussions to agree a post-Brexit relationship. Sir Howard Davies, chairman of RBS, warned that the government had only six months to secure a transition deal. If there was no deal by March, companies, including RBS, would start to move jobs to other parts of the EU, Sir Howard told Sky News.
“If there are no details by the first quarter of next year, the number of moves of people out of London will accelerate,” he said.
Heads of government from the remaining EU members are due to decide at a summit on October 19-20 whether enough progress has been made on settling the UK’s exit terms to open talks on a future relationship.
In the meantime, Dominic Raab, a minister at the Department of Justice, claimed that the UK was making more extensive plans than previously understood to prepare for the possibility it might leave the EU in March 2019 without agreement on a future relationship.
Such an outcome could require the country to set up customs posts, air traffic control systems and other new, independent institutions far more quickly than if a deal is reached for an orderly transition.
James Chapman, former chief of staff to David Davis, the Brexit secretary, said that if Britain was serious about preparing for a “no deal” outcome “then thousands of new customs officers should already be in training and vast new quangocracy for everything from pharma to aviation established”.
Mrs May is expected to tell the House on Monday that a “sovereign United Kingdom” wants a “new, deep and special partnership” with a “strong and successful European Union”.
“Achieving that partnership will require leadership and flexibility, not just from us but from our friends, the 27 nations of the EU,” she will say. “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.”
The response from the EU27 is likely to be coloured by French and German demands that the UK put more money on the table, beyond the €20bn Mrs May offered last month in a highly-touted speech in Florence. The sum was meant to cover Britain’s obligations for the last two years of the current seven-year EU budget cycle, which ends in 2020.
Ireland, meanwhile, is seeking more clarity about exactly how Mrs May intends to create an invisible border between the north and south, while seeing through her promise to take Britain out of the single market and customs union.
Negotiations will begin on Monday and run into Tuesday with a day off scheduled on Wednesday. Mr Davis is scheduled to be in Brussels on Thursday but his team said he might shuttle between London and Brussels earlier in the week.
Money is Britain’s strongest negotiating card and Mrs May does not want to play it yet. But German chancellor Angela Merkel and French president Emmanuel Macron believe they have time on their side.
In addition to mounting pressure from anxious businesses, the UK’s position has been further complicated by Mrs May’s disastrous party conference last week. Some European diplomats wonder whether she will last long enough to deliver on any agreements struck in Brussels.
In Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, the first minister, said the UK was moving towards a “slow-motion car crash” exit from the EU as she held open the possibility of demanding another referendum on Scottish independence.
The Brexit talks will resume against a backdrop of intensifying British preparations for an exit without a deal.
Speaking about the issue on the BBC’s Sunday Politics programme, Mr Raab said preparations were under way for new customs facilities and other infrastructure but that this was being done “quietly” so as not to spoil the “right, positive tone” for the negotiations.
“This planning goes on,” said Mr Raab, who supported Leave in last year’s EU referendum. “It’s right that it does because of the prime minister’s clear point of view that we need to search and hope for the best, strive for the very best outcome from these negotiations, but prepare for all eventualities.”
Many Conservative rightwingers believe a “no deal” outcome should not be feared and would represent a chance for Britain to break completely with EU regulatory structures.
“If the EU says at the October council they don’t intend to talk about a future agreement, we must get on with preparing for exit with no deal,” John Redwood, the veteran Eurosceptic, said.