British elections

Impatient EU leaders want May to get on with Brexit talks

A demonstrator wearing a Theresa May mask protesting against a "hard Brexit" in London yesterday, following the shock results of the British general election.
A demonstrator wearing a Theresa May mask protesting against a "hard Brexit" in London yesterday, following the shock results of the British general election.PHOTO: REUTERS

They crank up pressure on Britain to avoid any disruption to an already tight timeline

BRUSSELS • European officials struggled to hide their impatience with Britain after Prime Minister Theresa May's bid for a stronger parliamentary majority ahead of Brexit talks ended in disaster.

"As far as the commission is concerned, we can open negotiations tomorrow morning at half past nine," European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said at a defence conference in Prague. "So, we are waiting for visitors coming from London - I hope that we will not experience a further delay in the conclusion of this negotiation."

"We don't know when Brexit talks start," European Union President Donald Tusk said in a Twitter posting. "We know when they must end. Do your best to avoid a 'no deal' as result of 'no negotiations'."

EU's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier underscored the point, posting on Twitter that the exit timing and the EU positions were already clear and that talks would start when the "UK is ready".

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Mrs May's call seven weeks ago for elections to bolster her party in Parliament and reinforce her Brexit negotiating position backfired, with the Conservatives garnering 318 seats as of press time (with one seat being recounted), down from the 330 held at the start of the campaign and short of the 326 needed for an overall majority.

Mrs May, however, downplayed the prospect of any delay in the start of the Brexit negotiations.

In a speech outside 10 Downing Street after securing Queen Elizabeth II's nod to form the next government, Mrs May said: "This government will guide the country through the crucial Brexit talks that begin in just 10 days and to deliver on the will of the British people by taking the UK out of the EU."

BALL IN BRITAIN'S COURT

As far as the commission is concerned, we can open negotiations tomorrow morning at half past nine. So, we are waiting for visitors coming from London - I hope that we will not experience a further delay in the conclusion of this negotiation.

EUROPEAN COMMISSION PRESIDENT JEAN-CLAUDE JUNCKER

She added: "The government I lead will put fairness and opportunity at the heart of everything we do. So that we will fulfil the promise of Brexit together and over the next five years build a country in which no one, and no community, is left behind."

The election result has sown confusion for EU leaders, who have expressed a desire to negotiate with a unified UK. The UK notified the EU in March that it would quit the bloc, starting a two-year countdown to its exit. And with the negotiating phase of Brexit needing to be wrapped up by the autumn of next year, officials are putting pressure on Britain not to disrupt an already tight timeline.

EU Commissioner Guenther Oettinger told Deutschlandfunk German radio that the Brexit timetable was "very ambitious". as negotiations would need to be wrapped up by October or November next year.

"Regardless of this disaster for the Tories... we need a government capable of negotiating, which is able to negotiate Britain's exit."

"Evidently, the confidence of citizens that many things will get better and easier after leaving the EU is waning - even among Brexit supporters," Mr Juergen Hardt, the foreign affairs spokesman for German Chancellor Angela Merkel's parliamentary caucus, said in a statement. "One way out of the self-inflicted dilemma might be that members of the British Lower House rethink their Brexit strategy."

French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said on Europe1 radio that Brexit talks "were never simple to begin with" and the talks "will be long and complex". "EU is united, Great Britain is deeply divided," Mr Manfred Weber, leader of the Christian Democrats in the European Parliament, said on Twitter. "May wanted to achieve stability, and brought chaos."

BLOOMBERG, REUTERS

 

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 10, 2017, with the headline 'Impatient EU leaders want May to get on with Brexit talks'. Print Edition | Subscribe