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.
Former Lithuanian prime minister Andrius Kubilius, a conservative who sits on his country’s Brexit committee, warned that the British government’s need to keep an unstable parliamentary alliance together was plainly a threat to progress on talks.
“I think it will be much messier now and negotiations will be much more difficult. That’s an early thought but it depends on the internal decisions of Britain.” Kubilius said. “I think there will be a greater demand for a softer Brexit now and that is to be welcomed.”
The EU had until now believed it understood that May wanted to take the UK out of both the single market and the customs union, but early on Friday British Secretary of State for Exiting the EU David Davis suggested the election result could prompt a rethink.
“That’s what it [the election] was about, that’s what we put in front of the people, we’ll see tomorrow whether they’ve accepted that or not. That will be their decision,” Davis said of the Tories’ manifesto pledges on the single market and customs union.
French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe was quick to scotch any suggestion that Britain might perform a U-turn and ask to stay in the EU — which would need EU agreement — but said he did expect Brexit negotiations to be “long and complex.”
The schedule is tight, German Minister of State for Europe Michael Roth said.
“We should not waste any time,” Roth said.
France’s EU commissioner, Pierre Moscovici, said the timetable for leaving in 2019 was not optional but fixed in treaty law.
British voters had “punished the clear incompetence of Theresa May,” said Gianni Pittella, the leader of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats, the second-largest political group in the European Parliament.
“She wanted the UK to have a stronger and harder negotiating position, but has the chaos of a hung parliament,” Pittella said.
There are already clear bones of contention in the negotiations. The EU has made plain it expects sufficient progress to be made on the divorce deal — including the size of the UK’s exit bill, citizens’ rights and the border in Ireland — before it will begin to discuss a future trade deal.
Predicting “the row of the summer,” Davis last month insisted that Britain wanted to “see everything packaged up together, and that’s what we’re going to do.”
He also said the UK could walk away if confronted with the ￡100 billion euro (US$111.96 billion) settlement the EU is said to be considering.
Late last month, Beijing introduced changes to school curricula in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, requiring certain subjects to be taught in Mandarin rather than Mongolian. What is Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) seeking to gain from sending this message of pernicious intent? It is possible that he is attempting cultural genocide in Inner Mongolia, but does Xi also have the same plan for the democratic, independent nation of Mongolia? The controversy emerged with the announcement by the Inner Mongolia Education Bureau on Aug. 26 that first-grade elementary-school and junior-high students would in certain subjects start learning with Chinese-language textbooks, as
There are worrying signs that China is on the brink of a major food shortage, which might trigger a strategic contest over food security and push Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平), already under intense pressure, toward drastic measures, potentially spelling trouble for Taiwan and the rest of the world. China has encountered a perfect storm of disasters this year. On top of disruption due to the COVID-19 pandemic, torrential rains have caused catastrophic flooding in the Yangtze River basin, China’s largest agricultural region. Floodwaters are estimated to have already destroyed the crops on 6 million hectares of farmland. The situation has been
The restructuring of supply chains, particularly in the semiconductor industry, was an essential part of discussions last week between Taiwan and a US delegation led by US Undersecretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy and the Environment Keith Krach. It took precedent over the highly anticipated subject of bilateral trade partnerships, and Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co (TSMC) founder Morris Chang’s (張忠謀) appearance on Friday at a dinner hosted by President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) for Krach was a subtle indicator of this. Chang was in photographs posted by Tsai on Facebook after the dinner, but no details about their discussions were disclosed. With
On Sept. 8, at the high-profile Ketagalan security forum, President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) urged countries to deal with the China challenge. She said: “It is time for like-minded countries, and democratic friends in the Indo-Pacific region and beyond, to discuss a framework to generate sustained and concerted efforts to maintain a strategic order that deters unilateral aggressive actions.” The “Taiwan model” to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic provides an alternative to China’s authoritarian way of handling it. Taiwan’s response to the health crisis has made it evident that countries across the world have much to learn from Taiwan’s best practices and if