Theresa May, U.K. prime minister, left, shakes hands with Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, ahead of Brexit negotiations in the Berlaymont building in Brussels, Belgium. (Photographer: Jasper Juinen/Bloomberg)

How EU Surprised Capitals and Helped May Cross the Brexit Line

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Theresa May got her Brexit deal a bit sooner than many were expecting. Trouble is, the rush to get it over the line blindsided European capitals and left them puzzled by the choreography.

EU President Donald Tusk and Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker declared on Thursday that a deal had been “agreed in principle at political level,” just as Commission negotiators circulated a text, which quickly leaked.

National ambassadors thought the document was still an open draft as they met behind closed doors in Brussels. They’re now complaining they’ve been sidelined, according to people familiar with the situation.

The Spaniards grumbled about Gibraltar and even German Chancellor Angela Merkel was left sounding a bit out of date as she spoke in Berlin. With nations starting to raise concerns on issues from fish to fair play, the Brussels machinery staged an intervention.

The Commission sought to put a lid on objections by nailing down the text and publishing it as soon as possible, according to two people familiar with the matter.

The risk is that the summit on Sunday isn’t just a rubber-stamping exercise and nations that didn’t feel heard will want to assert their authority. After all they are the ones who gave chief negotiator Michel Barnier his mandate in the first place, and he reports to them.

Some countries are particularly miffed that May is coming to Brussels on Saturday to see Juncker. The last pre-summit meeting of member-state officials is Friday -- and they don’t want anything to change after that.

Merkel for one has made clear she’s not up for negotiating on Sunday. She wants her officials to brief her on the final text, so she can be in and out for the signing.

May’s spokesman tried to allay any concerns that May would rock up on the weekend with a new wish list. He acknowledged that the deal isn’t finalized until all 27 member states sign off, and said the U.K. won’t be asking for anything else.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.