Although during the British election campaign there was little talk about Brexit, the result of the vote will have strong consequences on the negotiations. In the meantime, will these start on June 19, as planned?
Theresa May speaks of a “united front” and is convinced she will be able to respect the date. But to negotiate with Brussels, London must have a government. It must appoint a negotiator, who must define the contours of the British demands. Britain appears far away from the “strong and clear mandate” that May would have wanted.
On Friday, the president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, warned: “I hope that there will be no additional delays in the negotiations,” in view of the fact that there have already been delays. The referendum took place almost a year ago (June 23, 2016) and Article 50 was implemented on March 23. Commissioner for Economic Affairs Pierre Moscovici wants to believe that “the result of the British election does not call into question the negotiated timetable,” but warns that “there will have an impact on the spirit of the upcoming negotiations.”
The procedure laid down in Article 50, for an “ordered” exit from the E.U., is binding. It limits negotiations to two years, which cannot be suspended for the launch of the new government. If London wants to extend the negotiation period, it will have to make an explicit request of London which has to be accepted unanimously by the 27 members. Michel Barnier, the E.U. negotiator, has already complained of the “denial of reality” the British have shown so far, postponing the start of negotiations and perpetuating the electoral slogan on hard Brexit.
The 27 member states, however, have given Barnier a precise mandate: London has to pay for all ongoing programs in which Britain is engaged (calculated below €60 billion) and must give guarantees for the three million E.U. citizens residing in the U.K. (with an equal counterpart to the British citizens in the E.U.).
Donald Tusk, President of the E.U. Council, summed up the concerns in Brussels: “I do not know when the negotiations will start, but we know when they have to end. Do your best to avoid a no deal after a no negotiate.” In France, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said tersely: “The result of the elections in Britain does not call into question the choice of the British citizens to leave the E.U.” In Germany, Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel is more nuanced and wants to believe in “a vote against the ‘hard Brexit.’”
For the E.U. budget commissioner, the German Günther Öttinger, there is “the danger that negotiations end up bad for both parties” because of a “soft power.” He adds: “We need a government capable of acting. In the coming days we will see if Britain is able to start the negotiations, because without a government, there is no negotiation.”
For the liberal Guy Verhofstadt, “it is still an own goal [soccer lingo for scoring on yourself]: after Cameron now May. It will make complex negotiations even more complicated.”
In Brussels, explains the Green leader Philippe Lamberts, they are concerned that a weakened May will stiffen even more and become “hostage of the most extremist wing of brexiters.”
In London the situation is confusing. According to former Tory minister George Osborne, “The hard Brexit ended in the dustbin.” Nicola Sturgeon, Prime Minister of Scotland, asked May to “give up” on the hard Brexit. The eventual allies of the Northern Irish DUP (Democratic Unionist Party) defend a soft Brexit, “without tears and without friction” with Ireland, for maintaining a common area of movement of persons and facilities for trade (Northern Ireland has voted 56 percent to Remain and Belfast fears that a hard Brexit may endanger the ’98 peace agreements).