Fri, Apr 21, 2017 - Page 9 News List

British cabinet hopes to solidify support for Brexit in election

By Patrick Wintour  /  The Guardian

The European media coverage of the UK’s Brexit debate fuels the belief that the UK could change its mind. That coverage often focuses on the pro-European demonstrations, the divisions between the Brexiters and any spotty signs that the UK economy is being damaged.

Lengthy interviews with figures such as Nick Clegg appear in the German press, such as Handelsblatt, or with Sadiq Khan in Le Monde.

The speeches by former British prime minister Tony Blair explicitly calling for the remain camp to keep open the options of the UK remaining in the EU have been given generous coverage.

UK negotiators, including some in the Cabinet, believe this European mindset could make the negotiations more difficult, and this lurking, hidden agenda would reduce the EU’s will to compromise.

If May wins a large Commons majority, the lingering hope that Britain will change its mind will be dashed. There will instead be a double democratic lock — a narrow referendum decision affirmed in a comprehensive general election verdict.

UK officials believe this double mandate will lead the EU not to play games, but accept the best solution is to reach a mutually agreeable, long-term trading relationship.

Any EU motive to erect artificial roadblocks over the sequencing of the talks, the Brexit divorce costs, or passporting rights would be reduced.

The initial signs suggested Europe had got the message.

Norbert Rottgen, a member of Merkel’s conservatives and head of the German Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee, said the decision to go for an election meant the chances of a reversal of the UK decision would be reduced.

“Hopes for an exit from Brexit are completely unfounded. For the first time the prime minister is programmatically committing the Tories to Brexit,” he said.

However, Britain’s hope that it will change the European view might prove wrong. Experience shows the EU does not necessarily crumble when faced by negotiators armed with a fresh mandate from their people.

In 2015, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tspiras, leader of the leftist SYRIZA party, called a referendum and a snap election in a bid to give himself extra bargaining clout in the bailout talks, and little good it did him.

The overwhelming EU view remains that the UK must not be seen to benefit from any decision to leave the EU, whether that decision is taken by referendum or by an election.

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