Germans, Dutch Brace for Hard Brexit as Bulgaria Sees Long Haul

  • Theresa May seen abroad as favoring clean break from the bloc
  • ‘If she wants it, she will have it,’ German CDU’s Fuchs says

Senior politicians in Germany and the Netherlands said U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May’s comments on her approach to pulling out of the European Union point to a clean break from the EU’s single market.

Dutch Foreign Minister Bert Koenders said May’s speech to her Conservative Party signaled that the new premier favors a “a pretty harsh Brexit.” Michael Fuchs, a senior lawmaker in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union, said that from Germany it “looks like she’s going for a hard Brexit,” and the U.K.’s negotiating position will be weakened as a result.

“If she wants it, she will have it,” Fuchs, a deputy parliamentary caucus chairman for Merkel’s CDU, told Bloomberg Television on Tuesday. “I’m afraid she’s underestimating the situation a little bit, because one thing is very clear, that the Europeans are going to be very tough negotiators.”

The perception in Germany and the Netherlands, both traditional allies of Britain within the EU, adds to signs of a hardening attitude among members of May’s administration that helped drive the pound to a 31-year low on Tuesday. Across the continent, EU governments have complained that May has provided insufficient detail on what she wants from exit talks, while publicly spurning her suggestion to hold informal discussions before negotiations begin in earnest by next April.

For more on the shifting attitude in the U.K.’s Brexit administration, click here

Seeking “the best deal possible” for U.K. companies, May pledged to control immigration in Britain’s best interests while retaining access for business to the single market, a goal that fellow EU governments have said is contradictory and unachieveable. She also said the U.K. will trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty by the end of March, starting a negotiation process of as long as two years.

‘Not a Lot’

May “has given some clarity, not a lot, but some clarity at least on the fact that it seems she wants a pretty harsh Brexit,” Koenders told reporters in Budapest. “Well let’s see, I think it’s too early to judge that. We want to have good and fair negotiations.”

The end-March date could trigger some change in market perception since Brexit is now “getting real,” Bank of America-Merrill Lynch economists Robert Wood, Gilles Moec and Kamal Sharma said in a note. Her announcement that immigration control and freedom from EU courts would be at the heart of Brexit “seem to mean that May is contemplating a ‘hard Brexit,’ since with this opening gambit retaining good access to the single market will be difficult in our view. It is early days, with time for positions to change, but May is starting the negotiation from a tough line.”

In Bulgaria, Deputy Foreign Minister Rumen Alexandrov said there are “still many uncertainties” surrounding the U.K.’s extrication from the 28-nation bloc, with the clock about to start ticking.

“What’s really important is how much time the whole process will take -- and this will depend on Britain’s starting position, which is not clear yet,” he said in an interview in Sofia in Tuesday. “The more distant it is from the position of the other European countries, the longer it will take to negotiate.”

— With assistance by Slav Okov, and Jonathan Stearns

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