Brussels hopes for ‘rational discussion’ at Tory conference to break deal deadlock

The general rule in Brussels is that what goes on at a party conference stays at the party conference. Rhetorical fireworks from politicians playing to the crowd are regarded as part and parcel of the political cycle, to be safely disregarded as a bit of theatre. But with six months to go until Brexit, the normal rules do not apply. Every cough and spit in the British debate at this stage is attracting the closest attention, and much of it is causing great anxiety in the EU quarter of the Belgian capital.

Jeremy Corbyn was first up, with his leader’s speech in Liverpool. To say it was forensically examined and discussed by EU officials and diplomats does not do it justice. EU officials liked bits of it. They chortled in the European commission at Corbyn’s line that the government envisioned a “Britannia that both rules the waves and waives the rules”. They thoroughly approve of Labour’s policy on negotiating a customs union with the EU, and have had this message passed on to the Labour leader. But the central thrust of Corbyn’s speech worried them deeply.

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