Remainers to the left of her, Brexiters to the right: British Prime Minister Theresa May is stuck in the middle with the EU.
May yesterday headed to Brussels to update EU leaders on progress toward Brexit.
She does not have much to report.
Two years after Britain voted to leave the EU, and with just nine months until it officially leaves, May is trapped between two rival visions of life outside the 28-nation bloc.
On one side are pro-EU lawmakers and worried businesses who want to retain close economic ties with Britain’s biggest trading partner.
On the other are pro-Brexit lawmakers within her Conservative Party who want a clean break, and are threatening to topple May if she compromises.
“Two years on, we would have expected to know where we were going, but at this point we have a range of scenarios that goes from ‘no deal’ [Britain crashing out of the EU without a framework for future relations] right through to the reversal of Brexit,” King’s College London professor of economics and public policy Jonathan Portes said.
With a divided Cabinet and no majority in parliament, May has managed to keep her fragile government afloat by deferring big decisions and offering vague pronouncements.
She says Britain will leave the EU, but have a “deep and special partnership” with it. Britain is to quit the bloc’s single market and tariff-free customs union, but seek trade that after Brexit is “as free and frictionless as possible.”
The government says that the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland is to remain near-invisible, with no customs checks.
EU officials say they await detailed proposals from Britain on how all that can be achieved.
They have warned, repeatedly, that Britain cannot cherry-pick benefits of EU membership, such as access to its single market, without accepting the responsibilities, including allowing free movement of EU citizens to Britain.
EU leaders are growing impatient and worry that the timetable the two sides have set themselves — to reach a divorce agreement by October so that EU national parliaments can ratify it before March next year — is slipping out of reach.
“Let me be blunt,” Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said last week. “There isn’t much time left if we are to conclude an agreement and have it operational by the time the United Kingdom leaves the European Union next March.”
EU nations are ramping up planning for a “no deal” Brexit, which is growing more likely, he said.
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