Dominic Raab faced ridicule on his first trip to Brussels as Brexit Secretary as the EU flatly rejected Theresa May’s Chequers plan and mocked spelling errors in translations of the document.
Senior EU diplomats made it clear that the Brexit white paper agreed at Chequers cannot form the basis for negotiations, as British sources said the EU was being “deeply unhelpful”.
Mr Raab looked nervous ahead of his first meeting with Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, which was overshadowed by the European Commission announcing it was stepping up preparations for a “no deal” Brexit.
Even before he arrived, he faced embarrassment as it emerged that British-prepared translations of the Brexit white paper into the native languages of the other 27 EU member states were full of errors.
According to the EurActiv website, the Estonian and Finnish version misspelt “Estonia” and “Finland” and the French version risked outright offence by translating “principled Brexit” into “un Brexit verteux” which suggests that Brexit is a moral good.
The Dutch version was described in a leading newspaper as reading like something put through the “cheapest available” translation software. It also mis-spelt Edinburgh as "Edinburg".
After an unproductive week of Brexit negotiations in Brussels, the Telegraph understands that UK negotiators have been told Mrs May’s white paper setting out the UK-EU future relationship is unacceptable and still amounts to an attempt to “cherry-pick” access to the EU single market.
Regional analysts said the EU side had been clear that Mrs May’s concessions on agreeing to a ‘common rule book’ and a measure of ECJ jurisdiction, had not changed the EU’s view that the white paper was a reheated version of already dismissed idea.
“The informal message Michel Barnier has been passing to EU capitals is that he is ‘unimpressed’,” wrote Mujtaba Rahman, the head of Europe practice at the Eurasia Group consultancy to clients, citing EU sources with knowledge of the discussions.
British officials working in Brussels on EU legislation have been rebuffed in their behind-the-scenes efforts to win support for the white paper.
“They are trying but have gained little traction,” one diplomat told the Telegraph. “They are simply referred to Mr Barnier’s team.”
EU diplomatic sources said the two sides remain badly deadlocked over the issue of the Irish border ‘backstop’ which the EU says must be agreed in order to conclude a divorce and transition deal this autumn.
“We can no longer kick the can. We need to hear from Raab how he sees backstop in the Withdrawal Agreement,” said a source close to the talks.
Dashing British hopes that the white paper could provide the breakthrough Mrs May was hoping for, the senior diplomat added, “We are not negotiating the White Paper, we are negotiating the withdrawal agreement. There won’t be a formal position on the White Paper”.
Mr Raab said: “I came out today to discuss the detailed proposals in our White Paper and I am looking forward to, with renewed energy, vigour and vim, looking at the details of this.
“As Michel has told us, the clock is ticking, and I am looking forward to intensifying, heating up the negotiations and making sure we are in the best position to get the best deal.”
Mr Barnier warned there were only 13 weeks before the October summit where the EU hopes to finalise the Brexit deal, in order to allow time for national governments and the European Parliament to ratify the deal.
“It is a matter of urgency to agree on a legally applicable backstop in Ireland and Northern Ireland. We need an all-weather insurance policy,” he warned.