In Brussels, as in life, there’s no such thing as a free lunch. Theresa May wants the big prize of the EU finally talking about a post-Brexit trade deal. The cost comes in the shape of hard cash, citizens’ rights and a fudge for Northern Ireland. After a strange day of political anti-climax, the big question remains whether hardline Tory Brexiteers and the DUP think the last of those compromises is a price worth paying.
With so much riding on the outcome, it wasn’t a surprise that there were competing narratives and expectations ahead of the PM’s working lunch with Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker. The day began with Brussels talking up chances of a breakthrough, with one EU official saying both sides were “90% there”. London was much more guarded, insisting the lunch was just a “staging post” and the whole thing could go to the wire of next week’s crunch EU summit.
Less than an hour before both sides broke bread, it looked like the only meal on Theresa May’s menu were several large slices of humble pie. In a market-moving story that electrified Twitter, Irish broadcaster RTE claimed to have a leak of the deal on the vexed issue of Northern Ireland.