Theresa May’s proposal loses ground both at home and in Brussels

British Prime Minster Theresa May in 10 Downing Street in London, Britain, 17 April 2018. EPA-EFE/ANDY RAIN

Theresa May’s proposal loses ground both at home and in Brussels


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Theresa May’s compromising White Paper is unsatisfactory domestically and in Brussels; still, on Monday morning she spoke of the need to “get on with it.”

Her proposal seeks a “middle ground” in a polarized debate, which leaves unsatisfied the EU, her hardliner Brexit wing and those in her government and parliament aspiring to a closer relationship to the EU.  Public opinion too is not on her side, especially as her White Paper has not been received enthusiastically in Brussels and, therefore, does not have the desired effect of a “deliverable” deal.

Collapsing domestic front

Facing a political stalemate at home and resistance in Brussels, the probability of a “no deal” Brexit increases.

According to a YouGov poll for the Sunday Times, Theresa May’s plan for Brexit does not enjoy public support. The poll suggests the plan enjoys the confidence of merely 16% of the electorate, while 34% would rather see Boris Johnson taking charge of Brexit negotiations.

More worryingly for the Conservatives, 25% of the electorate would consider voting for a far-right party that would maintain an uncompromising stand vis-à-vis Brussels. Nigel Farage and Steve Bannon are said to be planning the launch of a new far-right political movement in the UK. The German public broadcaster speaks of Bannon’s vision for a far-right Eurosceptic think-tank.

May’s “White Paper” envisages maintaining the status quo for trade goods in goods but not on services.

This would mean the UK would follow EU regulation and standards to ensure industrial value chains continue to operate. However, services would diverge and operate on the basis of equivalence rather than “passporting rights.”

The plan makes clear the UK is unwilling to accept European Court of Justice (ECJ) jurisdiction and will end freedom of movement.

On Friday, Theresa May delivered a speech in Northern Ireland calling on Brussels to “evolve” its position on the backstop deal signed in December 2017.

No “evolution” in Brussels

The British prime minister underscored that no one in her place would be able to accept that the UK’s internal market is fractured, with N. Ireland remaining in the Customs Union and the Single Market.

From Brussels, the European Commissions chief Brexit negotiator, Michelle Barnier, warned that “when you make a proposal limited to agricultural products and goods, you have to ask what about services, what about capital, what about the free movement of people.”

The European Commission is refusing to badge, allowing partial access to the Single Market; at the same time, Barnier expects the UK to honour the backstop agreement signed in December 2017, which the UK is gradually calling into question.

Barnier noted that the UK and the EU have 13 weeks to deliver a deal, that is, until October.

In an interview with the BBC on Sunday, the new Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab warned that the UK may not sign a deal and refuse to pay a €42bn so-called “divorce settlement” if to the EU refuses to budge on the question of Ireland and Single Market access.

Raab’s warning was reiterated in a letter to the Sunday Telegraph. He also told the BBC that the government is preparing for a “no deal” scenario.

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