Brussels most certainly won’t come to the rescue of Theresa May. As Britain’s prime minister is fighting for her political survival following chaotic election results, leading EU officials are staunchly opposing any adjustments to talks over Britain’s departure from the bloc.
“I don’t see how we could now accommodate the Brits in the upcoming negotiations,” Elmar Brok, a German conservative and chairman of the European Parliament’s foreign affairs committee, told Handelsblatt. It would “make little sense to depart from our own positions due to pity,” Mr. Brok said.
The remaining 27 EU nations insist on sorting out Brexit terms before negotiating any future trade relations, a situation Ms. May wants to avoid at all costs. She insists on negotiating issues in parallel, in hopes of currying favor with her conservative voters back home, who expect Britain to come out on top following the divorce talks. Following Thursday’s election debacle, voices across Britain, and even within the EU, have called on Brussels to make concessions.
Brexit talks are set to begin officially next week, but both sides first have to agree on organizational details, such as the structure of talks and their interval. Oliver Robbins, Ms. May’s leading civil servant in charge of Brexit negotiations, traveled to Brussels on Monday to meet Europe’s Brexit chief negotiator, Michel Barnier. Details of the talks have not become public as of yet.
Back at home in London, pressure is growing on Ms. May to deviate from her harsh stance on Brexit. The prime minister, who initially urged for Britain to remain part of the union, is now pushing for the country to exit the European single market and its tariff union to introduce tougher immigration controls. And nothing has changed about that stance following the elections, British Brexit Minister David Davis told reporters earlier this week.
“I can’t imagine that Theresa May will be able to hold on as prime minister.”
But news agency Bloomberg reported that some government members are opposing Ms. May’s line, citing sources who say the prime minister has been weakened so severely that she won’t be able to push through her Brexit strategy. The fault lines within Ms. May’s Conservatives are starting to show and the prime minister hopes to smother the rebellion by appointing some of her fiercest internal critics to influential positions. One of them is Michael Gove, who ran against Ms. May in 2016 when the Tories were looking for a new party leader. As part of the plan, Mr. Gove is set to be Britain’s new environment minister.
Brexit minister Davis tried hard to shore up support for Ms. May on Monday, playing down party-internal disputes and calling speculations over a potential successor for the prime minister exaggerated and egocentric. Graham Brady, an influential Tory politician, agreed, adding that there were no calls for new elections or the appointment of a new party leader.
But officials in Brussels are doubtful that the battered prime minister will weather her party’s power struggle. “I can’t imagine that Theresa May will be able to hold on as prime minister,” Mr. Brok said. If Britain were willing to change some of its main positions, however, the EU would agree to talk about the country’s participation in Europe’s single market, the German politician added.
“But obviously the same rules as for everyone else would apply in that case,” Mr. Brok said, voicing a stance in line with that of the German government.
Till Hoppe reports on politics for Handelsblatt, with a focus on defense, domestic policy and cyber issues. Katharina Slodczyk is Handelsblatt’s London correspondent. To contact the authors: firstname.lastname@example.org,email@example.com