UK PM denies being 'in a different galaxy'

British Prime Minister Theresa May rejected claims that her negotiating stance was unreasonable.
British Prime Minister Theresa May rejected claims that her negotiating stance was unreasonable.PHOTO: REUTERS

EU says May's Brexit demands unreasonable, but she says no deal is better than a bad deal

LONDON • British Prime Minister Theresa May has denied that she is "in a different galaxy" after European Union leaders are reportedly dismayed by her Brexit negotiating demands at a meeting last week.

Mrs May told European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker and chief negotiator Michel Barnier that a detailed potential trade deal needed to be drawn up before Britain would agree to pay its EU divorce bill, according to the Sunday Times.

According to the paper, Mr Juncker told German Chancellor Angela Merkel that Mrs May was "in a different galaxy", adding that it looked more likely now that no deal would be reached at all.

Mrs May told the BBC's The Andrew Marr Show that she stood by her earlier comment that "no deal was better than a bad deal", and rejected claims that her negotiating stance was unreasonable. "I'm not in a different galaxy. What this shows is that there are going to be times when these negotiations are going to be tough," she said.

"I want to ensure we agree on a trade deal and withdrawal arrangements for... when we leave the European Union. And the EU has itself said that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed," she said, suggesting that further battles loom over the structure of the negotiations.

Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel said the EU estimated the bill to be between €40 billion (S$61 billion) and €60 billion, which mainly covers financial commitments made by the bloc while Britain was a member.

EU leaders unanimously backed a tough Brexit strategy at a summit on Saturday, demanding a "serious response" from Britain on the rights of European citizens before trade talks can start.

The summit was the first since Mrs May formally triggered in March the two-year process of untangling Britain from the EU after four decades of membership.

Mrs May said there was agreement that the fate of EU nationals living in Britain should be an early priority but, as Prime Minister, she also had "a care for the UK citizens living in the other 27 countries of the EU", calling for a reciprocal deal.

"There is goodwill there," she said. "I believe we can give that assurance to those people at an early stage."

The Prime Minister surprised the political establishment earlier this month by announcing a snap general election for June 8, calling it yesterday the "most important election our country has faced in our lifetime".

Mrs May is expected to massively increase her Conservative Party's slim majority, saying that would help her "take a strong hand into negotiations".

The Conservative Party has seen its lead narrow considerably over the last week, a poll by research firm YouGov showed yesterday, the third poll of the weekend to show the party's advantage over the opposition shrink.

The party was set to garner 44 per cent of the vote, the poll for the Sunday Times showed, still a commanding 13-point lead over Labour, which polled at 31 per cent. However, a poll by YouGov last weekend showed a 23-point lead for the Conservatives, and two other polls released on Saturday also showed Labour closing the gap on the governing party.

Support for the pro-EU Liberal Democrats was at 11 per cent, while eurosceptic UK Independence Party polled at 6 per cent.

Actual Brexit negotiations are not expected to begin until after the British election, although the EU is set to give an official mandate to Mr Barnier on May 22.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 01, 2017, with the headline 'UK PM denies being 'in a different galaxy''. Print Edition | Subscribe