Sun, Jun 11, 2017 - Page 7 News List

EU braces for Brexit talks delay after UK shock election result

By Daniel Boffey and Jon Henley  /  The Guardian

The EU is to force a humiliated British Prime Minister Theresa May to explain her intentions in Brussels as senior figures warned that with the clock ticking on Brexit negotiations, Britain’s hung parliament was an “own goal” and a “disaster” that risked delaying or derailing the talks.

May on Friday said that Brexit talks would begin on June 19 as planned, but officials in Brussels were braced for a delay.

A meeting of the European council on June 22 was the EU’s new deadline for wanting to know the prime minister’s plans in light of the politically disastrous loss of her majority, sources said.

European Council President Donald Tusk reminded London that Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon had already been triggered and talks would therefore have to be concluded by March 2019.

“We don’t know when Brexit talks start,” Tusk tweeted on Friday. “We know when they must end. Do your best to avoid a ‘no deal’ as result of ‘no negotiations.’”

In a letter congratulating May on her reappointment, Tusk later warned there was “no time to lose” in starting the negotiations.

EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier said the “timetable and EU positions are clear” and talks should start “when the UK is ready,” while European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker confirmed the bloc stood ready to “open negotiations tomorrow morning at 9:30am.”

Although he also said he “strongly hoped” there would be no further delay, Juncker appeared in comments to the Suddeutsche Zeitung newspaper in Germany to suggest some slippage may be unavoidable.

“The dust in the UK now has to settle,” he said.

It had been hoped officials from both sides would hold informal talks next week on logistics before formal talks began during the week starting June 19. However, with a Cabinet reshuffle and new Brexit goals likely following the election result, that timetable now seems unrealistic in Brussels.

European Parliament chief Brexit negotiator Guy Verhofstadt described the election result as “yet another own goal — after [former British prime minister David] Cameron now May. I thought surrealism was a Belgian invention.”

Verhofstadt said the election outcome would “make already complex negotiations even more complicated. I hope the UK will soon have a stable government to start negotiations. This is not only about the UK, but also about the future of Europe.”

The bloc needs “a government that can act. With a weak negotiating partner, there’s a danger the negotiations will turn out badly for both sides? I expect more uncertainty,” German EU commissioner Gunther Oettinger said.

Manfred Weber, the leader of the powerful conservative European People’s party group in the European parliament, tweeted that the Brexit clock was now ticking and Britain “needs a government that is ready to negotiate, and fast.”

Most European capitals had believed May would be returned to government with some form of majority and expected that to lead to at best difficult talks, and at worst a breakdown of the negotiations possibly as early as this summer.

They would have preferred the UK government to have a strong majority since it would then feel politically confident enough to make potentially difficult concessions.

“We want a deal. We are professionals, we have a mandate to get a deal, and we want a deal more than anyone. But we don’t even know who we are negotiating with,” a senior diplomat said of the election result.

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