Exclusive: Some EU nations still want Valneva COVID-19 vaccine deal – sources

By Matthias Blamont

PARIS (Reuters) – Some EU countries still want Brussels to strike a deal to buy Valneva’s COVID-19 vaccine candidate despite a recent setback in talks, as the bloc aim to shore up and diversify supplies, sources familiar with the talks told Reuters.

A spokesman for the European Commission said last week the French vaccine maker had not met conditions required to reach an agreement, two days after the company said it would now give priority to a country by country approach.

The EU concluded exploratory talks with Valneva in January for the supply of up to 60 million doses of its vaccine, which uses inactivated whole virus particles and is derived from the technology behind its licensed Japanese encephalitis shot.

Two sources familiar with the bloc’s plans said some EU members, including France and Germany, were still pushing for a deal to help diversify supplies as Europe tries to secure vaccines for the next two years.

“There are around 10 countries interested in a deal with Valneva. The contract is written, but the two sides still need to agree on a few structuring parameters. Once this is cleared, things could rapidly move forward,” one of the sources said.

The sources declined to be identified because of the confidential nature of the talks.

Valneva and the European Commission declined to comment.

So far, the EU has bought COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna, AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, CureVac, and Sanofi/GlaxoSmithKline/GSK.

It is currently in negotiations for a third contract with Pfizer and BioNTech, which would mark the world’s biggest vaccine supply deal.

The vaccines have different approaches, ranging from the use of recombinant proteins to so-called messenger RNA.

Valneva, which started a late-stage human trial for its shot last week, has signed a deal with Britain for up to 190 million doses by 2025 in a transaction worth potentially up to 1.4 billion euros ($1.7 billion).

The company’s vaccine will be produced in Scotland, with an estimated capacity of 200 million doses next year. It will use an adjuvant made by U.S. company Dynavax.

This single location is a concern for the EU, which wants to ensure vaccines are produced on its soil and avoid a scenario where the company could be tempted to prioritize deliveries to Britain to the detriment of the continent, the sources said.

It has embarked on a legal battle against AstraZeneca, which it accuses of holding back doses made in Britain from its supplies to the region.

Germany wants Valneva to agree first that it would not prioritize Britain in deliveries, one of the sources said.

In February, Valneva’s chief financial officer David Lawrence told Reuters the group was open to production partnerships in other regions, should its vaccine candidate secure approval and generate enough interest beyond Britain and the EU.

($1 = 0.8269 euros)

(Reporting by Matthias Blamont. Additional reporting by Andreas Rinke in Berlin. Editing by Josephine Mason and Mark Potter)

EU imposes China sanctions over Xinjiang abuses; first in three decades

By Robin Emmott

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Union imposed sanctions on Monday on four Chinese officials, including a top security director, for human rights abuses in Xinjiang, the first sanctions against Beijing since an arms embargo in 1989 following the Tiananmen Square crackdown.

Accused of mass detentions of Muslim Uighurs in northwestern China, those targeted with sanctions included Chen Mingguo, the director of the Xinjiang Public Security Bureau. The EU said Chen was responsible for “serious human rights violations.”

In its Official Journal, the EU accused Chen of “arbitrary detentions and degrading treatment inflicted upon Uighurs and people from other Muslim ethnic minorities, as well as systematic violations of their freedom of religion or belief”.

Others hit with travel bans and asset freezes were: senior Chinese officials Wang Mingshan and Wang Junzheng, the former head of China’s Xinjiang region, Zhu Hailun, and the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps Public Security Bureau.

China denies any human rights abuses in Xinjiang and says its camps provide vocational training and are needed to fight extremism.

While mainly symbolic, the sanctions mark a significant hardening in the EU’s policy towards China, which Brussels long regarded as a benign trading partner but now views as a systematic abuser of basic rights and freedoms.

They are also likely to inflame tensions between Brussels and Beijing. The EU had not sanctioned China since it imposed an arms embargo in 1989 following the Tiananmen Square pro-democracy crackdown. The arms embargo is still in place.

All 27 EU governments agreed to the punitive measures, but Hungary’s foreign minister, Peter Szijjarto, called them “harmful” and “pointless,” reflecting the bloc’s divisions on how to deal with China’s rise and to protect business interests.

China is the EU’s second-largest trading partner after the United States and Beijing is both a big market and a major investor which has courted poorer and central European states.

POSSIBLE RETALIATION

But the EU, which sees itself as a champion of human rights, is deeply worried about the fate of the Uighurs. Britain, Canada and the United States have also expressed serious concerns.

Activists and U.N. rights experts say at least 1 million Muslims are being detained in camps in the remote western region of Xinjiang. The activists and some Western politicians accuse China of using torture, forced labor and sterilizations.

The EU’s sanctions take aim at officials who are seen to have designed and enforced the detentions in Xinjiang and come after the Dutch parliament followed Canada and the United States in labelling China’s treatment of the Uighurs as genocide, which China rejects.

Last week, China’s ambassador to the bloc, Zhang Ming, said that sanctions would not change Beijing’s policies, decrying the measures as confrontational and warning of retaliation.

The EU has also called for the release of jailed ethnic Uighur economics professor Ilham Tohti, who was jailed for life in 2014. He was awarded the European Parliament’s human rights prize in 2019.

(Reporting by Robin Emmott, Editing by William Maclean)

Brussels targets vaccinating at least 70% of EU adults by summer

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – European Union states should aim to vaccinate at least 70% of their adult populations against COVID-19 by the summer, the European Commission recommended on Tuesday.

Each of the EU’s 27 governments are managing their own vaccination campaigns, including their pace and which groups get priority. The Commission’s recommendations are not binding.

The 70% goal could mean inoculating over 200 million people, most likely with vaccines which need two doses per person. The EU has so far given a first dose to about 5 million people since it started its rollout at the end of December, the Commission said.

To meet its ambitious goal, the EU executive said it will work to boost the production capacity of vaccine makers with measures that could include investment in plants and faster regulatory procedures to authorize them.

As a mid-term target, by March at least 80% of people over the age of 80, and 80% of healthcare workers should also be vaccinated in each EU state, the Commission said.

The EU has ordered nearly 2.3 billion doses of approved and candidate COVID-19 vaccines, but only the shots developed by Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech have so far received regulatory clearance in the bloc. They both need two doses to provide full protection.

The EU has secured 600 million doses of the vaccine developed by Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech and, despite early snags in deliveries, expects them to be delivered by the end of this year.

Moderna said it expects to deliver at least 80 million doses to the EU by the third quarter. Decisions on EU approvals of the vaccines developed by AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson are expected in coming weeks.

The Commission is also urging EU states to boost their capacity to sequence the coronavirus in order to detect new variants.

It called on EU governments to sequence at least 5% of all positive tests whereas at the moment many states test less than 1% of samples.

“Vaccinations will still take time until they reach all Europeans,” EU health commissioner Stella Kyriakides said, adding that meanwhile testing and sequencing must be increased.

The Commission also said it was working with EU states to adopt a common approach by the end of the month on vaccination certificates to facilitate travel.

(Reporting by Francesco Guarascio @fraguarascio; editing by Philip Blenkinsop, John Stonestreet, Philippa Fletcher, Alexandra Hudson)

In blow to WHO, EU seeks powers to declare health emergencies

By Francesco Guarascio

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Commission on Wednesday proposed rules which would give the EU the power to declare a health emergency and stress test national plans to tackle pandemics, in a potential blow to the World Health Organization.

The move follows an often uncoordinated reaction by the 27 EU governments to the COVID-19 pandemic, which at the beginning of the crisis led to competition on vital medical gear and export bans on medicines.

It also comes after the WHO was criticized for having declared the pandemic, which first emerged in China at the end of last year, too late. The U.N. agency has repeatedly denied the accusation.

Under the proposals, the EU would be able to declare an EU-level public health emergency, which would in turn trigger more coordination among EU states.

Currently, the EU relies on the WHO to declare such an emergency.

“The new rules will enable the activation of EU emergency response mechanisms (..) without making it contingent upon the WHO’s own declaration of a Public Health Emergency of International Concern,” an EU document says, adding that such a move would be coordinated with the WHO.

If adopted, the overhaul would partly take away a major power from the WHO, as EU states call for reform of the organization to address shortfalls in emergencies.

“We relied too much on the WHO for the COVID-19 pandemic,” Peter Liese, a top EU lawmaker from German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party, said.

“Under pressure from China, the WHO declared the health emergency too late. It is therefore very important to have the possibility to act at European level in future similar situations.”

The WHO, which the Trump administration has labelled a puppet of China, was not immediately available to comment.

COORDINATION ON VACCINES

Under the commission’s proposals, the EU would help governments prepare pandemic plans and would audit and stress test them, an EU document says.

EU states have traditionally been reluctant to give more powers to Brussels on the matter.

During the pandemic, they have applied different national measures on a series of issues, including testing policies for COVID-19 cases, quarantine rules and travel restrictions.

But they have shown good coordination on procuring vaccines.

If approved by EU governments and EU lawmakers, the commission said the proposals would be immediately applicable and could strengthen EU powers to tackle the current pandemic, in which most European countries are seeing a surge in cases.

Brussels wants to strengthen the EU public health agency, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, whose non-binding advice, such as on the length of quarantine after contact with an infected person, has often been ignored.

It also wants more power for the EU Medicines Agency to prevent risks of shortages of medicines and medical devices.

Brussels also said it would unveil by the end of next year plans for a new health authority modelled after the U.S. Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, which has played a vital role in procuring experimental dugs and vaccines.

(Reporting by Francesco Guarascio @fraguarascio; Editing by Alison Williams and Nick Macfie)

Frenchman convicted to life in Jewish museum attack, tells jury ‘life goes on!’

By Clement Rossignol

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – French citizen Mehdi Nemmouche was sentenced to life in jail on Monday for shooting dead four people in a Jewish museum in 2014, telling the court “life goes on” in his last words to the jury.

The families of victims and survivors of the attacks voiced relief at the end of a two-month-long jury trial dogged by controversy over what they denounced as conspiracy theories put forward by Nemmouche’s defense lawyers.

Nemmouche, 33, who staged the attack after coming back from Syria, spat out just that one short phrase ahead of the jury’s final deliberation on the length of his penalty on Monday.

Nacer Bendrer, another French citizen being tried as Nemmouche’s accomplice told the court, “I am ashamed to be here … I am ashamed to have crossed paths with this guy. He is not a man, he is a monster.”

The 12-person jury convicted Bendrer to 15 years in prison for acting as an accomplice. He was suspected of providing the weapon used in the shooting.

The attack in May 2014 – the first by a Western European who fought with Islamist militant factions in Syria’s civil war – highlights the threat posed by jihadist returning home.

The shooting killed an Israeli tourist couple, Myriam and Emmanuel Riva, and two employees of the museum, Dominique Sabrier and Alexandre Strens.

In final words, the prosecutor Yves Moreau called on the jury to hand down a tough sentence: “He will get out of jail and he’ll go on another crusade and start killing again,” he was cited by the state broadcaster RTBF as saying on Monday.

Turning to Nemmouche, who was largely impassive and refused to speak during the trial, he took aim at his lack of contrition. “The cherry on the cake: you aren’t even capable of taking responsibility for your acts,” he said.

Nemmouche, 33 – who was radicalized in the jail, according to investigators – is also facing charges in France over his role in holding hostage journalists in Syria.

During the high-profile trial, the two French journalists had testified that they remembered Nemmouche as a deeply anti-Semitic, sadistic and full of hatred.

Defense lawyers, who had alleged that prosecutors doctored video footage of the attack and that Nemmouche was framed in a settling of accounts between spies including Mossad agents, said he would not appeal the sentence.

(Reporting by Clement Rossingnol; Additional by Clare Roth; Writing by Alissa de Carbonnel; Editing by Jan Strupczewski)

Belgian judge orders repatriation of six children of Islamic State militants

FILE PHOTO: Kurdish-led militiamen ride atop military vehicles as they celebrate victory over Islamic State in Raqqa, Syria, October 17, 2017. REUTERS/Erik De Castro/File Photo

By Charlotte Steenackers

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – A Belgian judge has ordered the government to repatriate six children of Islamic State (IS) militants and their mothers who have been detained in a camp in Kurdish-controlled Syria, the national news agency Belga said on Wednesday.

Tatiana Wielandt, 26, and Bouchra Abouallal, 25, both Belgian citizens, and their children have been held in the Al-Hol camp in since the defeat of IS in nearly all territory it once held in Syria and Iraq.

Belga quoted the court ruling as ordering the Brussels government to take all necessary and possible measures to ensure the six children and their mothers can return to Belgium.

It must do so within 40 days after being notified of the decision or pay a daily penalty of 5,000 euros for each child, up to a maximum 1 million euros, newspaper De Tijd said. The Belgian government can appeal the ruling.

No comment was available from the court on Wednesday due to a public holiday. A lawyer for the two women was not immediately available for comment.

A spokesman for the foreign ministry said it would “analyze the situation together” with the justice and interior ministries.

Hundreds of European citizens, many of them babies, are being kept by U.S.-backed Kurdish militias in three camps since IS was ousted last year from almost all the large swathes of territory it seized in 2014-15, according to Kurdish sources.

European nations have been reluctant to take them back, regarding children of jihadists both as victims and threats – difficult to reintegrate into schools and homes.

European diplomats say they cannot act in a region where Kurdish control is not internationally recognized. Moreover, there is little popular sympathy for militants’ families after a spate of deadly IS attacks across western Europe.

The Kurd say it is not their job to prosecute or hold them indefinitely, leaving the women and children in legal limbo.

However, mounting concern over the apparent abandonment of hundreds of children with a claim to EU citizenship – most of them under six – is pushing governments to quietly explore how to tackle the complexities of bringing them back.

(Reporting by Charlotte Steenackers; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

France’s ‘yellow vest’ protests spread, Brussels police arrest hundreds in riot

Riot police are seen during the "yellow vests" protest against higher fuel prices, in Brussels, Belgium, December 8, 2018. REUTERS/Yves Herman

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Belgian police detained more than 400 people on Saturday after “yellow vest” protesters inspired by riots in France threw rocks and firecrackers and damaged shops and cars as they tried to reach official buildings in Brussels.

destroyed car is seen after the "yellow vests" protest against higher fuel prices, in Brussels, Belgium, December 8, 2018. REUTERS/Yves Herman

A destroyed car is seen after the “yellow vests” protest against higher fuel prices, in Brussels, Belgium, December 8, 2018. REUTERS/Yves Herman

n the second violence of its kind in the capital in eight days, a crowd which police estimated at around 1,000 faced riot squads who used water cannon and tear gas to keep people away from the European Union headquarters and the nearby Belgian government quarter. Calm was restored after about five hours.

The movement in Belgium, inspired by the “gilets jaunes”, or yellow vest, protests in neighboring France over the past month, has given voice to complaints about the cost of living and demanded the removal of Belgium’s center-right coalition government, six months before a national election is due in May.

French police said more than 30,000 people demonstrated there and more than 30 people were injured in a second successive Saturday of violence in Paris.

Demonstrators clash with police during the "yellow vests" protest against higher fuel prices, in Brussels, Belgium, December 8, 2018. REUTERS/Yves Herman

Demonstrators clash with police during the “yellow vests” protest against higher fuel prices, in Brussels, Belgium, December 8, 2018. REUTERS/Yves Herman

Belgian protesters wearing the fluorescent yellow vests carried by all motorists for emergencies also briefly blocked a motorway near Belgium’s border with France.

(Reporting by Clement Rossignol and Robin Emmott; Writing by Alastair Macdonald; Editing by Edmund Blair)

Europeans to take new steps against Russia over UK spy

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May, Lithuania's President Dalia Grybauskaite, Slovenia's Prime Minister Miro Cerar and Spain's Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy attend a European Union leaders summit in Brussels, Belgium, March 23, 2018. Geert Vanden Wijngaert/Pool via Reuters

By Noah Barkin and Alastair Macdonald

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – European Union member states agreed at a summit in Brussels to take further punitive steps against Russia in the coming days for the nerve agent attack in Salisbury, as Moscow accused the bloc of joining a London-driven hate campaign against it.

Late on Thursday, in a boost for British Prime Minister Theresa May, the 28-member EU collectively condemned the attack on a former Russian spy and said it was “highly likely” Moscow was responsible. They also recalled the EU ambassador to Russia.

“Additional steps are expected as early as Monday at the national level,” summit chair Donald Tusk told reporters.

French President Emmanuel Macron said Paris and Berlin would be among countries taking further rapid and coordinated measures which other leaders said would include the expulsion of Russian officials and possible other retaliatory actions.

“We consider this attack a serious challenge to our security and European sovereignty so it calls for a coordinated and determined response from the European Union and its member states,” Macron told a news conference.

Standing beside him, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said EU countries would debate what measures to take “and then act”.

One senior official familiar with discussions said the extent of measures in the coming weeks could be “surprising” and not confined to expulsions. There is no talk of more economic sanctions, whose enforcement has divided the EU in the past.

Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis said he was likely to announce the expulsion of several people on Monday, after returning to Prague and consulting with his foreign minister.

Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite said she was ready to expel Russian spies, whose activities she said were deeply harmful: “It is certain that a coordinated action will be taken next week, maybe at the start of it,” she said. “It’s absolutely obvious that the network exists and that it acts aggressively.”

Romanian President Klaus Iohannis stressed that national governments wanted to retain control of the details in an area where they guard their sovereignty from Brussels. But most of those present would go home and prepare suitable steps.

Russia has denied responsibility for the March 4 attack on former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter, the first known offensive use of a nerve toxin in Europe since World War Two. A British judge said on Thursday that both victims may have suffered brain damage from the attack.

BRITISH EXPELLED

Moscow retaliated against May’s move to expel 23 Russians by announcing the expulsion of the same number of Britons.

On Friday, the Russian foreign ministry described the EU accusation as “baseless” and accused the bloc of spurning cooperation with Moscow and joining “another anti-Russian campaign deployed by London and its allies overseas with an obvious goal: to put another obstacle on the path to the normalization of the situation on the European continent”.

In Moscow, the expulsion of British diplomats went ahead, a convoy of minibuses speeding out of the embassy compound to applause after British embassy staff said their goodbyes in the courtyard under a light snowfall.

A special charter flight is expected to fly the diplomats back to Britain later on Friday.

France’s Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, on a visit to Kiev, signaled that Paris was considering expelling Russian diplomats in solidarity with Britain. “You will see,” he said.

The summit statement hardened previous EU language on Russia’s alleged role as French President Emmanuel Macron and others helped May overcome hesitation on the part of some of Moscow’s friendlier states, some of whom questioned how definitive Britain’s evidence is.

“What we will now consider in the coming days is whether we want to take individual action relating to Russian diplomats in Ireland,” Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar told reporters.

“We’re not going to expel people randomly.”

Welcoming the solidarity she secured from the summit, May told reporters on leaving: “The threat from Russia is one that respects no borders and I think it is clear that Russia is challenging the values we share as Europeans and it is right that we stand together in defense of those values.”

Still, some said they could ill afford Russian retaliation against their own Moscow embassies, some of which employ barely a handful of accredited diplomats.

Austria said it did not plan to expel Russians.

(Additional reporting by Gabrielle Tetrault-Farber and Dmitry Madorsky in Moscow and Richard Lough, Gabriela Baczynska, Robin Emmott and Elizabeth Piper in Brussels; Editing by Richard Balmforth and Alastair Macdonald)

Belgium launches twin investigations into knife attack

People walk next to the scene where a man attacked two soldiers with a knife in Brussels, Belgium August 25, 2017 in this picture obtained from social media. Picture taken August 25, 2017. Thomas Da Silva Rosa /via REUTERS

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Belgian authorities on Saturday launched twin investigations into a knife attack they consider to be an act of terrorism and released more details of the suspect shot dead by soldiers in central Brussels.

Federal prosecutors said that they had requested an investigating judge look into the incident on Friday that they said constituted attempted murder.

A second investigation would look at the soldiers’ response.

The man shouted “Allahu Akbar” (God is great) as he stabbed the soldiers, one of whom shot him twice.

The assailant died shortly afterwards in hospital. Investigators then found a fake firearm and two copies of the Koran among his possessions.

They said the man, aged 30 and of Somali origin, had come to Belgium in 2004. Migration Minister Theo Francken said the man had been granted asylum in 2009 and gained Belgian citizenship in 2015.

Investigators also searched the man’s home in the northern city of Bruges, prosecutors said, without giving any details of what they had found.

They added the man was not known to have any links to Islamist militancy, but had committed an act of assault and battery in February this year.

Brussels prosecutors said they had started an investigation into whether the soldier who killed the man had acted correctly.

“It appears that the soldier twice shot the suspect who had attacked them with a knife. These shots were fired in the context of self-defense and according to the rules of engagement,” the prosecution service said in a statement.

It added that an autopsy would be carried out on Saturday. Prosecutors would take a final decision based on this and a report by a ballistics expert.

Soldiers routinely patrol the streets of the Belgian capital due to a heightened security alert level after Islamist shooting and bomb attacks in Paris in 2015 and Brussels in 2016.

In June, troops shot dead a suspected suicide bomber at Brussels’ central train station. There were no other casualties. Authorities treated the incident as an attempted terrorist attack.

 

 

(Reporting By Philip Blenkinsop Editing by Jeremy Gaunt)

 

‘No whistling, just ticking’: EU pushes on Brexit talks

European Union's chief Brexit negotiator Michael Barnier addresses a news conference at the EU Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, July 12, 2017. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

By Alastair Macdonald and Robert-Jan Bartunek

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The EU’s negotiator pressed Britain on Wednesday to offer more post-Brexit rights to European expats and accept it will pay a hefty sum on leaving if it wants a quick start to talks on a future trading relationship.

Michel Barnier, who holds a first full round of talks next week, betrayed impatience with London during a Brussels news conference. Britain had yet to respond to detailed proposals from him on many issues, he said, and had fallen short on what it has offered on citizens’ rights, as well as on what it owes.

Asked his view on Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson’s remark on Tuesday that Brussels could “go whistle” if it thought Britain would pay what Johnson called “extortionate” demands, Barnier showed no desire to join in any cross-Channel banter:

“I’m not hearing any whistling, just the clock ticking,” the Frenchman said, echoing his refrain of the past year that time is tight to conclude terms for an exit in March 2019 that can limit disruption for businesses and millions of people.

Barnier said he wants detailed proposals from the British next week to match those made by the EU on issues they want settled in a withdrawal treaty.

These include the rights of expats left on either side of a new EU-UK border, a methodology for calculating how much Britain will owe to cover commitments to the EU and how to manage the new border, notably on Ireland.

Only if there is progress on all three of these would EU leaders agree to open negotiations on a future free trade deal.

For now, however, 3 million Europeans in Britain would have fewer rights under London’s proposal than Britons on the continent, notably in the matter of being able to bring in relatives, he said. And those rights in Britain would not be guaranteed by the treaty or ultimately by the EU’s judges in Luxembourg.

NEGOTIATING POSITIONS

Even some EU governments concede that the demand for much of the relations between Britain and the bloc to be under ultimate scrutiny by the European Court of Justice – anathema to many of those who voted for Brexit a year ago – is a “maximalist” position and may have to be moderated in negotiations.

An early indication of how far apart the two sides really are will come from Monday, when British officials are due in Brussels for the first of four, week-long, monthly rounds of negotiations which they hope can show enough progress to see EU leaders agree at a summit in mid-October to open trade talks.

Barnier urged London to be clear on its willingness to pay a bill, which the EU executive have put at potentially 60 billion euros ($70 billion), if it wants to win the Union’s trust.

He dismissed suggestions from Brexit supporters that the EU was holding Britain to “ransom” and stressed that he was open to negotiating the amount “line by line” but first the British had clearly to take responsibility for their share of EU budgets.

“I cannot imagine that a very great country like the United Kingdom is not a country that takes responsibility,” he said.

In a sign of the domestic dramas that have delayed Britain’s response, three leaders will separately see Barnier on Thursday: the first ministers of Wales, which backed Brexit, and Scotland, which did not, as well as opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn.

With May hobbled by losses in a miscued snap election last month, Corbyn’s Labour party and the devolved governments are pushing her to modify her Brexit plans – though Barnier stressed he would only be negotiating with British ministers.

(Additional reporting by Francesco Guarascio and Foo Yun Chee; Editing by Andrew Roche)